Amie Jo Schaenzer, County to help guard accused of assault, Fond du Lac Reporter, May 9, 2008.

Fond du Lac County will loan a 36-year-old Taycheedah Correctional Institution officer the money he needs to hire an attorney to represent him in a prison sexual assault case.

Jimmie L. Brown of Oshkosh appeared without counsel Thursday for an indigency hearing in which he argued that he could not afford an attorney. Brown has been without representation since he was arrested last month for sexually assaulting TCI inmates while employed there as a correctional officer.

He has been in custody at the Fond du Lac County Jail in lieu of a $50,000 cash bail.

Brown is charged with 13 counts of second-degree sexual assault by correctional staff, facing what amounts to life in prison if convicted, with more charges expected in the case, said Fond du Lac County District Attorney Michael O'Rourke. Brown is accused of sexually assaulting five inmates, and a sixth inmate has stepped forward alleging similar contact between her and Brown.

Brown is accused of having sex or sexual contact with the inmates several times between last summer and April 10, and is accused of raping one of the women, according to the complaint. Under Wisconsin statute, it is illegal for a correctional staff member to have sexual contact or intercourse with an inmate and is punishable by up to 40 years in prison and/or $100,000 in fines.

Prior to the law being passed by the Wisconsin Legislature in 2003, Wisconsin was one of only four states not explicitly prohibiting sexual conduct between prison and jail staff members and inmates, according to a Stop Prisoner Rape website noted in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.

Brown worked as a correctional officer at TCI from June 23, 2007, until April 17, when he was placed on unpaid administrative leave, said TCI Warden Cathy Jess.

During a hearing Thursday, Fond du Lac County Circuit Court Judge Dale English ruled that due to Brown's financial situation, he qualified for a court-appointed attorney.

The county would front the money for the attorney and Brown would be required to pay the county back, O'Rourke said.

Brown explained his situation to the court during the hearing, saying he is separated from his wife, rents an apartment, was "living paycheck to paycheck" prior to his arrest and had planned to file for bankruptcy.

He told the court every attorney he contacted in the past month wanted $15,000 to $20,000 to represent him in the highly publicized case.

"No one wants to touch this," Brown said.

Brown said the assets he had would not cover court costs. He said he wasn't sure if he'd have access to money in his state retirement plan — and if the money there would be enough.

A preliminary hearing for Brown originally scheduled for Friday afternoon has been rescheduled for June 20 to allow Brown's attorney, William Mayer, time to prepare his case.

Case history

The Fond du Lac Police Department began investigating Brown after staff members from TCI reported sexual assault allegations on April 21, according to the criminal complaint.

That investigation turned up evidence that Brown "groomed" inmates through manipulation to initiate and maintain the sexual contact, O'Rourke said following Brown's initial court appearance on April 30.

According to the complaint, Brown allegedly raped one inmate in the prison's storage room and laughed at her afterward when she said she was going to report the assault. He befriended another inmate and then started giving her "assignments" that were sexual in nature. He had her perform sexual acts on him through the trap door of her prison cell while he insulted her, saying she should be better sexually since "she had nine children."

Some inmates said Brown gave them favors, allowing more time outside their cell, but would also threaten to place them in segregation if they did not fulfill his sexual desire or if they reported the acts, according to the complaint.

O'Rourke recently interviewed a sixth inmate alleging sexual contact with Brown.

The inmates listed in the criminal complaint range in age from 21 to 36, according to the DOC Web site. One of the victims is serving a 30-year term for second-degree intentional homicide.

The Fond du Lac Police Department has not received prior complaints against Brown, said Lt. Steve Klein of the Fond du Lac Police Department.

Since the assaults remain under investigation, TCI Warden Cathy Jess said she would not discuss Brown's past conduct or internal investigations conducted by TCI. The Reporter is filing a public records request for internal investigation documents related to Smith.

O'Rourke would not comment when asked if Brown had been investigated by TCI in the past.

Jess said allegations regarding sexual contact between inmates and correctional staff are investigated by law enforcement.

"We always involve the police department when sexual contact is alleged," Jess said.