PARK CITY — A former Daggett County sheriff's deputy accused of assaulting jail inmates was sentenced Monday to 120 days in jail.
Joshua Cox, 27, fought tears as he described the fallout his family has faced since he was charged.
Cox said he doesn't deny that what he did was wrong, but he maintains that he became a "catchall" for a department riddled with problems.
"That jail and that department was poison, and I let it get to me," he said.
Cox said he was also blamed in the rural Daggett County community for the jobs lost when the jail — a major source of income in the area — was essentially closed after the allegations surfaced. The animosity made it impossible to find work, and with his wife tethered to an employment contract and a mortgage on their home, he found himself moving in with his father 200 miles away to find a low-paying job.
"I know what I did was wrong, and I can't change that. I have never denied what happened. I am denying the circumstances," Cox said.
Loni DeLand, Cox's attorney, blamed the situation on an undisciplined and overly familiar culture in Daggett County law enforcement, where inmates and officers would sit around in the jail drinking soda, getting to know each other and participating in "horseplay."
"I don't think this could have happened in any other jail in the state of Utah," DeLand said.
Former co-worker Drew Housley agreed, standing to tell the judge that Cox's poor training was commonplace in a department that taught "if it isn't on camera, it didn't happen," and that Tasers "were merely a toy."
"I feel very strongly that Mr. Cox was made a catchall for a department full of bad behavior," Housely said.
He asked for Cox to receive "the same leniency" as the other defendants already convicted in the case, none of whom were ordered to serve jail time.
But prosecutor Steven Wuthrich emphasized that Cox abused a position of trust in the jail more than once, and he did it with a Taser stolen from another department. He also pointed to the economic impact on the community, which is something restitution from a court can't repair.
While Cox's first-time offense and low risk of committing new crimes normally would have secured him a sentence of probation, Wuthrich said the aggravating factors behind Cox's crimes warrant jail time.
As he handed down the jail sentence, 3rd District Judge Kent Holmberg said while his attorney tried to paint Cox as a victim of the department, "I don't see Mr. Cox as being a victim. I see him as someone in a position of trust."
Cox was ordered to serve his sentence in the Uintah County Jail starting no later than Wednesday.
Cox pleaded guilty in September to four of the 11 counts against him: two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of transporting a weapon into a secure area, all third-degree felonies, and one count of theft, a class A misdemeanor. The remaining nine counts were dismissed as part of the plea deal, and prosecutors agreed not to seek prison time for Cox.
Cox was charged alongside former Daggett County Sheriff Jerry Jorgensen and three other jail employees accused of mistreating and intimidating inmates with Tasers and untrained police dogs, or of witnessing the abuses and failing to report them.
Cox, who faced the most egregious allegations, admitted to deploying his Taser on stun mode on two inmates and to bringing that Taser unlawfully into the jail. He also admitted that the Taser was the property of the Smithfield Police Department, where he had worked part time.
In charging documents, prosecutors also alleged Cox had allowed an inmate to use the Taser to threaten another inmate and that he had taken an untrained police K-9 to the jail for "bite training" with inmates.
Charges related to those allegations were dismissed as part of the plea deal.
At the change of plea hearing in September, Jorgensen, a 40-year law enforcement veteran, pleaded guilty to official misconduct, a class B misdemeanor. The plea will be held in abeyance for six months, and two class A misdemeanors of failure of a sheriff to keep inmates safe and obstruction of justice were dismissed.
Former Lt. Benjamin Lail, 32, also pleaded guilty in September, admitting to reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor, reduced from a single count of third-degree felony aggravated assault. A year of jail time was suspended as long as Lail successfully completes a year of court-ordered supervision.
According to prosecutors, while acting as the commander at the Daggett County Jail, Lail intimidated a female inmate by sparking a Taser at her feet.
Two additional jail employees faced misdemeanor charges for allegedly watching Cox abuse inmates and failing to report it.
Rodrigo Toledo, 42, pleaded guilty in a separate hearing in Summit County Justice Court in September to official misconduct, a class B misdemeanor. The plea will be held in abeyance for six months, after which it may be dismissed.
The allegations against former deputy Logan Walker, 27, is the only case yet to be resolved. Walker is also charged with official misconduct, a class B misdemeanor. He is due in court for a pretrial conference on Nov. 21.4 comments on this story
After the case was filed, defense attorneys successfully argued to move the case to Summit County, arguing that Daggett County is simply too small and the case too high-profile for the court to seat an unbiased jury.
Because Daggett County relied so much on the revenue it received from housing inmates from the Utah State Prison, prosecutors argued that many members of the community "may be angry" at the men for prompting the Department of Corrections to remove all of its inmates, essentially closing the jail.
On an annual basis, state payments for jail inmates made up nearly 30 percent of Daggett County's revenue — or about $1.4 million in 2016, according to Utah's transparency website.