The Vermont State Police on Thursday arrested a Department of Corrections probation officer for sexual misconduct with a woman he was supervising.
Joshua Russ, a 35-year-old Brattleboro resident, was charged with sexual exploitation of an inmate and prostitution. He was being held at Southern State Correctional Center in Springfield for lack of bail and was scheduled to be arraigned on Friday.
According to the state police, the alleged victim reported to the Brattleboro Probation and Parole Office on May 29 that Russ had paid her for oral sex three to four times starting in January. The Department of Corrections said in a statement that it placed Russ on administrative leave that day and referred the matter to law enforcement. The Brattleboro Police Department initially investigated, but the state police later took over.
Authorities subsequently discovered text messages between Russ and the alleged victim that appeared to corroborate the allegation, the state police said.
According to the Department of Corrections, Russ worked as a corrections officer at Southern State from 2005 to 2008 and was rehired by the department in 2019 to work in the Brattleboro probation office. Interim Corrections Commissioner James Baker has ordered an internal investigation of the matter.
"The Vermont Department of Corrections has zero tolerance for the behavior outlined in this allegation," Baker said in a written statement. "I cannot emphasize enough how upsetting these allegations are. The people of Vermont put a high level of trust in DOC personnel. I expect every staff member to honor that trust. If these allegations are proven to be true, the trust that is given to us was violated. I find that unacceptable and it will be dealt with internally swiftly."
State law prohibits corrections officers from having sexual relations with those who are incarcerated and those they directly supervise on probation, parole or furlough. After a Seven Days investigation last December described multiple allegations of sexual misconduct within the state's women's prison and elsewhere in the corrections system, Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith called on lawmakers to expand the law to prohibit sexual relations between department staffers and anyone on probation, parole or furlough. He also ordered an independent investigation.
Citing the coronavirus outbreak, lawmakers declined to take action on Smith's recommendations this legislative session. The investigation, which was supposed to be completed by May, was suspended.