BRATTLEBORO — A former community corrections officer will serve up to four years in prison after pleading no contest to charges of sexual exploitation of an inmate and prohibited acts.
Joshua Russ, 36, who worked in the Brattleboro Probation and Parole, was sentenced Tuesday in Windham Superior Court, Criminal Division to four months to four years to serve.
In a statement in a news release issued Wednesday, Vermont Department of Corrections Commissioner James Baker said such behavior will not be tolerated.
“The majority of the people who work for the Vermont Department of Corrections are the most compassionate, selfless public servants I’ve met in my 45-plus years in the criminal justice field,” Baker said. “What Joshua Russ did is a betrayal of trust to every person in Vermont DOC. The conduct described in court filings is outrageous and unacceptable, and it does damage to the incredible work done by every single person on this team.”
From 2005 to 2008, Russ worked as a corrections officer at Southern State Correctional Facility, according to the release. He was rehired as a community corrections officer in Brattleboro in 2019.
Russ was placed on administrative leave in May 2020. The case was initially referred to the Brattleboro Police Department by the Department of Corrections and Vermont State Police became involved once investigators learned of incidents that took place outside Brattleboro. Baker also ordered an internal department investigation.
Investigators learned, through interviews with the victim and reviewing text messages, that one instance occurred inside Russ’ vehicle in a parking lot in Brattleboro, with two others at a roadside pull-off in Newfane.
Deputy State’s Attorney David Gartenstein, who prosecuted the case and described in an interview what was said at the change-of-plea hearing, told the Reformer the state had become aware of a potential for a civil court claim during pretrial proceedings.
“That’s a circumstance where criminal cases can be resolved for a no-contest plea rather than a guilty plea,” he said. “Now, acknowledgement of responsibility is of paramount importance in sex offense cases because acknowledgement of responsibility is a necessary foundation for rehabilitation through programming. And so, as a general matter, we do not agree to no-contest pleas to resolve sex offense cases. However, in this specific case because of the risk of civil liability, the state did agree and the judge accepted that plea.”
Gartenstein said Russ agreed at the hearing that the state could prove the facts set out in a stipulated fact statement and that if required by the DOC as part of his rehabilitation programming, he would have to admit those facts.
The stipulated fact statement says in January 2020, Russ engaged in a sexual act with a woman being supervised on furlough by the DOC. Russ is described in the document as having “a direct supervisory relationship” with the victim.
In March 2020, Russ made an appointment for and paid the victim for sexual contact, according to the statement.
“What I related to the court is that sexual violence within the corrections system is a substantial concern,” Gartenstein said. “There’s federal legislation, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, that primarily addresses sexual violence between inmates at the state level. There is a statute relating to the sexual exploitation of an inmate under which this case was prosecuted.”
Sexual contact between corrections personnel and those being supervised by the department “undercuts the integrity of the supervision system,” Gartenstein said. He noted the disparity within the power relationship.
“Circumstances in which sexual contact occurs between someone who’s being supervised and someone who’s working in corrections are very, very serious situations that need a response from the state,” he said.
Russ is due to report to Northeast Correctional Complex on June 11, according to the release. His attorney, Bettina Buehler of Buehler & Annis of Brattleboro, could not be reached immediately Thursday.