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Jail supervisor fired after alleged relationship

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Sheriff's Office has terminated the employment of Sgt. Debra Pilgrim, a supervisor in the detention center, effective April 15, according to Jail Division Capt. Sammy Banks.

Banks said the findings of an internal investigation led to Pilgrim's dismissal. She had been employed by NCSO since 2003.

"It was discovered during an incident that was ongoing with inmates in the maximum security area," Banks said, adding that Pilgrim was a friend and supervisor of jailer Jacquelyn Sims, who testified during the Cobey Lakemper murder trial that she had conducted an improper relationship with the inmate while he was incarcerated.

"During the investigation it was revealed the supervisor (Pilgrim) had knowledge of what was going on as far as the behavior and failed to take action to resolve it immediately," Banks said.

Before the allegations came to light, Sims had been dismissed from the detention center due to the 2010 budget cuts, Banks said.

Although there was conflicting testimony given by Sims and Lakemper during the trial, both admitted that notes and letters changed hands between the two and some improper "touching" took place while Sims was at work at the Newton County Detention Center.

Banks said the internal investigation was completed during the time the Lakemper murder trial was in progress.

"We didn't take action at that time because we did not want to interfere with the trial," Banks said. "It was put on hold until after the trial was over and then we moved forward with it."

Banks said it is important to preserve the professionalism of the jail staff, and any unbecoming conduct by staff that comes to the attention of a supervisor should be reported.

"They are placed in charge of the care of their inmates. If an officer is doing something that shouldn't be done, it should be brought to the attention of supervisors so we can take action. ... We're very picky about our jobs. We didn't get into this to make money. We got into it as a career and we have to maintain our careers," he said. "It is unfortunate that the incident occurred and Sheriff (Ezell) Brown will not tolerate it."

The incident brings to a close the five-year incarceration by Lakemper as he awaited trial. Banks said the prisoner left the day after he was convicted for state prison and it is his understanding that North Carolina authorities are now seeking to prosecute him in connection with the couple he is accused of killing in that state.

Not counting the court costs involved in prosecuting as well as defending Lakemper, Banks estimated his incarceration cost Newton County approximately $500,000.