Maury Co. correction officer indicted on federal charge after News4 investigation

5 years after Elizabeth Thomas kidnapped by her teacher, her former custodian indicted on unrelated charge
A Maury County corrections officer has been charged with obstructing an investigation into allegations that he sexually abused an inmate in his custody.
Published: May. 23, 2022 at 5:21 PM CDT|Updated: May. 23, 2022 at 9:56 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Five years after a nationwide search for Elizabeth Thomas was kidnapped by her teacher, her former custodian and older brother, James Thomas, was indicted on an unrelated federal charge.

In 2018, News4 Investigates first uncovered that James Thomas, a correctional officer with the Maury County Sheriff’s Office, was accused of raping an inmate in the county jail.

On Monday morning, Thomas was arrested by the FBI after being indicted for falsifying a report in connection to unwanted sexual contact with the inmate.

According to the indictment, in response to allegations that Thomas had nonconsensual sexual contact with a female inmate in his custody, he wrote an official report in which he falsely claimed that he had reported to two Maury County Jail supervisors that an inmate had made sexual advances toward him while the inmate was in his custody at a hospital. The report also falsely claimed that those two supervisors both advised him not to write a report about the alleged sexual advances by the inmate, and the report omitted that he had a sexual relationship with the inmate after the inmate’s release from the jail.

“James Thomas is a good and decent man who is only in the spotlight because of who he is,” attorney Jason Whatley, who has represented the family, said. “It is unfortunate that the news media treats differently those, who by no choice of their own, are forced into the public spotlight. My sincere believe and prayer is that the truth will ultimately prevail and that people will let James and his family live in peace.”

If convicted, Thomas faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

It is unclear why the federal indictment comes four years after News4 Investigates exposed the accusations.

In 2018, District Attorney Brent Cooper launched the investigation after News4 Investigates brought our findings to him and the TBI contacted his office.

James Thomas was named his sister’s custodian following her rescue after being kidnapped and taken across state lines by her former teacher, Tad Cummins.

James Thomas is a longtime correctional officer at the Maury County Jail and remained on the job at the time of his indictment.

Thomas’ former co-worker, a previous Maury County correctional officer who asked in 2018 that we conceal her identity for fear of retaliation, said she vividly remembers the day James Thomas turned to her at work and admitted that he’d committed a crime.

“(James Thomas) said, ‘I would go to the federal penitentiary for what I’ve done,’” the former correctional officer told News4 Investigates in 2018.

The former correctional officer said Thomas made the claim on the same night that he had been assigned to keep watch over inmate Carissa Christ, who was recovering from surgery.

Christ told News4 Investigates in 2018 she woke up from being on pain medication to find Thomas raping her.

“He is a sexual predator,” Christ said in 2018.

Christ said she was raped other times inside her jail cell during her stay.

“I’d wake up and he’d be standing there, in the middle of our cell, two o’clock in the morning,” Christ said.

Christ said that she never told anyone when she was in the jail and told few people when she left.

“When it’s an inmate’s word against an officer, the inmate is always wrong,” Christ said.

Christ and the former correctional officer both said they have never discussed the rape claims with each other.

News4 Investigates tracked down Christ and the former correctional officer independently in 2018.

The former correctional officer said after Thomas made the claim, she began to notice how often he was going into Christ’s cell.

“I observed video,” the former correctional officer said.

“You’ve seen video of him going into her cell?” News4 Investigates asked.

“Yes. There was no doubt in my mind that there was a sexual relationship happening,” the former correctional officer said.

The former correctional officer’s attorney sent a letter to Cooper indicating that the former officer was willing to testify and provide all of her corroborating evidence.

The TBI also confirmed that the former correctional officer reached out to them to alert them about her concerns, and the TBI then contacted Cooper.

When News4 Investigates told Cooper that both the former correctional officer and Christ had gone on the record for this story, he said his office needed to launch an investigation.

Whatley, Thomas’ attorney, confirmed in 2018 that his client had already been interviewed by the district attorney, and strongly denied any wrongdoing.

“In no uncertain terms, (Thomas) absolutely denies that there was never once, every any physical contact between him and this woman while she was in jail. Period,” Whatley told News4 in 2018.

Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland said then he could not comment because of the pending district attorney investigation.

When asked if video existed showing Thomas going into Christ’s cell, then-chief deputy Ray Jeter said that their ability to review video doesn’t extend that far back.

The former correctional officer said she also heard from two inmates while she was working in the jail that the assaults occurred.

“There’s no such thing as consensual sex inside a jail facility, the former correctional officer said.

The former correctional officer said she told her supervisor, the sheriff, a sheriff’s investigator and the TBI about what Thomas is accused of saying to her.

“Why else would you make the statement that you can land in the federal pen for what you’ve done?” the former correctional officer said.

“How can two women, who have never discussed this with each other, both say that he committed this crime?” News4 Investigates asked Whatley in 2018.

“I can’t speak to what their motives are. Just like I can’t speak to why this is coming up now, allegedly two years after the fact,” Whatley said.

The former correctional officer said she not only alerted her supervisor in 2016 but was told by that supervisor to document how often Thomas was going into Christ’s cell.

The former correctional officer said she made between six and eight incident reports detailing how often Thomas was going into Christ’s cell, and that those incident reports would have ultimately been printed out and stored.

While the sheriff would not comment, he said his office did a search for those incident reports, including going through the internal computer system, and could find no trace of them.

But in the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office about his indictment, Thomas is charged with writing an official report, falsely claiming that Christ made sexual advances toward him.

The U.S. Attorney’s office also claimed Thomas claimed two jail administrators advised him not to write the report about the false sexual advances.

The U.S. Attorney’s office wrote Thomas’ report omitted the fact that he had sexual relations with Christ after she was released from jail.

News4 Investigates did reach out to Sheriff Bucky Rowland for comment Monday evening wanting to ask why his office said in 2018 they could find no report on the accusations, but the indictment said Thomas did write a report, but we have not received a response.

While the sheriff’s office in 2018 would not comment, it did provide an internal complaint from 2016 from a female inmate who wrote that she witnessed Thomas going into Christ’s cell and overheard “inappropriate conversation.”

That inmate also wrote that Christ confided in her that it had escalated to “stalking.”

But the sheriff’s office provided, not long after that complaint was filed in the internal inmate complaint system, that Christ herself responded and wrote that it wasn’t true.

News4 Investigates showed Christ both documents and asked why she would claim it wasn’t true and later accused him of rape.

Christ said when she was told by deputies that the other inmate claimed another correctional officer, not Thomas, was bothering her.

Christ maintains that she thought the complaint was about another correctional officer who was not causing her problems, so she claimed it wasn’t true.

In the letter from the former correctional officer to the district attorney in which she details what she can testify about, she also mentioned that she has a letter from Thomas that he intended to send to Christ and Facebook messages discussing it.

News4 Investigates obtained the letter and the Facebook messages.

The Facebook messages begin with Thomas writing the correctional officer, explaining that he had typed a letter because it was something his old therapist had him to do to work through anxiety.

“It’s very ambiguous and doesn’t include names,” Thomas wrote in the message.

The former correctional officer agreed to read it and that they can talk about it.

Thomas then sent the letter, along with the message that reads, “More or less it just reassures interest and designates an identifying name. Is that bad?”

The letter, dated May 1, 2016, in which Christ was still in the jail, begins by reading, “Hey, I was bored while working my part time job so I figured I would write you a letter.”

The letter then read that he doubts he will be able to come visit for a while.

“I told one of his coworkers about you the other day. She was so pissed!” the letter read. “I figured I could trust her to vie me an honest opinion, especially since she has recently told me that I need to straighten up at work or I will get written up (called me out in front of a couple of people)!”

The letter later reads, “How have things been going with you? Do you keep busy while you are in there or are the days just dragging on? Not too much longer until you get out!”

The letter is signed “JD.”

Thomas then writes on Facebook messenger, “Did you say no to letters?”

“No letters!” the former correctional officer wrote back.

In her interview with News4 Investigates, the former correctional officer said Thomas wanted to send the letter to Christ.

Thomas’ attorney said that letter revealed no admission of guilt or any physical contact between the two.

“Bottom line, there’s a huge gulf between what’s in that letter and rape,” Whatley said then.

Whatley said in 2018 he would not be representing Thomas if he believed there was one shred of truth to these allegations.

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