- Associated Press - Friday, June 19, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Department of Correction said Friday that a former chaplain has been barred from future employment after he admitted to having an improper sexual relationship with a subordinate.

Department spokeswoman Cathy Frye confirmed in an interview Friday that the same chaplain, Kenneth Dewitt, is the subject of an investigation announced last week. Two female prisoners at the McPherson Unit in Newport, 90 miles northeast of Little Rock, alleged they had sexual relationships with Dewitt lasting about 3 ½ years.

In documents obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, the department said Dewitt, who was a full-time chaplain at the McPherson Unit in Newport, resigned in September while the agency investigated his relationship with another chaplain, a subordinate who was a contract employee. His termination paperwork says Dewitt is ineligible to work for the department and that he “quit without notice in lieu of disciplinary action.”

It was against department rules for Dewitt to have sex with a subordinate employee. A phone number listed for Dewitt has been disconnected.

Frye confirmed Friday that Dewitt, 66, is the subject of allegations from the two female prisoners made in December. The department had previously declined to name the former chaplain at the center of the allegations.

No charges had been filed regarding the prisoners’ allegations as of Friday. Arkansas inmates cannot consent to sexual relationships under Arkansas law.

The department documents provided to The Associated Press include a signed notice from John Mark Wheeler, the administrator of religious services for the department, saying Dewitt “called and confessed to having an inappropriate physical relationship with a subordinate… He was offered the opportunity to resign and he resigned effective immediately.”

Two letters from the subordinate were also included, noting that she was a former inmate and that the “moral failure” did not occur while she was incarcerated.

Dewitt resigned nearly three months before an investigation was opened into the prisoners’ allegations. There were no documents directly related to that investigation in his personnel file.

Frye said last week that department officials referred the prisoners’ allegations of sexual relationships to the Arkansas State Police soon after the prisoners came forward. The State Police gave the investigation file to the prosecuting attorney’s office in April, State Police spokesman Bill Sadler confirmed last week.

Several messages left at the prosecuting attorney’s office were not returned.

The department released the details of the investigation last week, the day after the U.S. Department of Justice announced it had opened an investigation into multiple allegations of abuse of prisoners by several staff members at the McPherson Unit in Newport, about 90 miles northeast of Little Rock.

Neither Frye nor a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice could say whether the federal investigation included allegations against Dewitt.

A June 11 Department of Justice news release said the Civil Rights Division would investigate allegations of sexual abuse and harassment that include allegations of prison staff having sex or engaging in sexual acts with prisoners, prison staff exchanging commissary money for sexual favors or sexual acts, prison staff watching prisoners shower or change clothes and making inappropriate sexual remarks, and prison staff taking inappropriate photos or videos of prisoners.

The federal agency said it will also investigate the treatment of transgender prisoners housed at the facility as part of the complaints it had received.

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