Facing accusation of raping an inmate, Maury Co. correctional officer remains on the job

Sheriff Bucky Rowland confirmed to WSMV4 Investigates the officer is temporarily supervising male inmates.
WSMV's Jeremy Finley reports.
Published: Apr. 7, 2023 at 6:56 PM CDT
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COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WSMV) - Facing accusations of raping an inmate, as well as a federal criminal charge, a Maury County correctional officer continues to work with inmates at the direction of the sheriff, a WSMV4 investigation found.

The accusations of rape and the federal indictment of correctional officer James Thomas takes heightened concern given that he was once named custodian of his sister, Elizabeth Thomas.

In 2017, Elizabeth Thomas prompted a nationwide search when she was taken by her then 50-year-old teacher, Tad Cummins.

Cummins ultimately pleaded guilty to transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of engaging in criminal sexual conduct.

After Elizabeth was rescued, her brother James was named her custodian.

But in 2018, WSMV4 Investigates exposed that James Thomas, a longtime correctional officer in the Maury County jail, was accused of raping an inmate, an accusation corroborated by one of Thomas’ fellow correctional officers.

Four years later, Thomas was indicted on a federal charge for falsifying a report in connection to alleged unwanted sexual contact with the inmate.

But Thomas’ personnel file, obtained by WSMV4 Investigates, shows he still works as a correctional officer for the Maury County Sheriff’s department.

Sheriff Bucky Rowland confirmed to WSMV4 Investigates that Thomas is temporarily supervising male inmates picking up litter but is not allowed to supervise female inmates nor has access to the jail.

Those job duties or restrictions, however, are not reflected in his personnel file.

“This is a man who faces an incredibly serious federal charge, and yet he remains on your payroll,” asked WSMV4 Investigates.

“It’s my belief that once he’ll be adjudicated, he’ll be cleared of any wrongdoing,” Rowland said.

The file also shows just before being indicted, Thomas was given a raise.

While Thomas is innocent until proven guilty, Verna Wyatt, a victim’s advocate, said allowing Thomas to continue to work with inmates is problematic.

“I think it might send the message: anything goes. And that’s not the message that you want sent,” Wyatt said. “Zero tolerance. That’s what you want.”

Rowland, who would not agree to an interview on camera, described Thomas supervising inmates on litter duty using an old saying about making the best out of a bad situation.

“When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade,” Rowland said. “(Supervising inmates on litter duty) has served him well for a period of time until he can get this behind him.”

Wyatt said the sheriff is making a risky decision.

“You have a victim who has made an allegation. You have another correctional officer that supports the victim, and you have the FBI saying, ‘hey, I think there’s something here,’” Wyatt said. “For me, I think it would be a liability to keep that person on.”

Thomas’ trial is slated to begin on April 25.

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