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Ex-jailer arrested for aiding inmate escape

Valenti charged with several felonies

Michelle Valenti

A former Webster County Jail corrections officer is facing several felony charges after authorities say she helped an inmate escape the jail earlier this month.

Michelle Renee Valenti, 30, of Fort Dodge, was arrested Tuesday morning and charged with permitting a prisoner to escape, introducing contraband, introducing electronic contraband and furnishing a controlled substance, all Class D felonies.

On the night of Saturday, Dec. 11, staff at the Webster County Jail reported the escape of inmate Jordan Mefferd, 43, of Fort Dodge. Mefferd was located a few hours later and taken back into custody around 1:30 a.m. Dec. 12. Mefferd was charged with escape, a Class D felony, and eluding, a Class C felony.

According to the criminal complaint, through the ensuing investigation into the jailbreak, investigators found surveillance video from the jail floor at the time of the escape and immediately prior that Valenti was present in the control room and was the only individual with access to the controls capable of unlocking the the door that was used by Mefferd to exit onto the bridge between the Law Enforcement Center and the Webster County Courthouse.

Mefferd then used multiple bed sheets tied together to lower himself to the ground.

During an interview with Webster County Attorney’s Office Investigator Larry Hedlund and Webster County Sheriff’s Office Detective Amy Stringer, Valenti admitted to facilitating the escape, including advising Mefferd of the gap in the fence of the bridgeway and to remotely unlocking the door.

Valenti is also facing one count of sexual misconduct with an inmate, an aggravated misdemeanor. She admitted to investigators to performing “multiple sex acts” with a different male inmate at the jail. The inmate, who has not been named by investigators, also admitted to the conduct.

During subsequent searches of the jail, a cigarette lighter was found in a common area of the jail floor, garnering the contraband charge. Valenti and the other male inmate also admitted to Valenti providing marijuana to the inmate.

Investigators learned that Valenti also supplied a cell phone to inmates at the jail, including to Mefferd and the other male inmate, who used the device to communicate with one another and individuals outside of the jail. The phone was used to communicate with Destiny Sumpter, 27, who picked Mefferd up in her vehicle when he escaped and was later charged with aiding and abetting felony escape.

Valenti told Hedlund where she threw the phone in an attempt to destroy and hide evidence, and Hedlund was able to locate the phone in the area described by the defendant.

“As your sheriff, I hold all employees of the Webster County Sheriff’s Office to a higher standard, not only to myself as their sheriff, but also to each citizen of Webster County, who we proudly serve and work for while in uniform, day in and day out,” Sheriff Luke Fleener said in a release. “I cannot and will not tolerate these types of actions and conduct.”

The sheriff went on to say that as the investigation progresses, any other employees who have been found to have violated department policies or protocols will be addressed accordingly, including with any criminal charges that may be warranted.

“Michelle Valenti has violated the trust of her former co-workers here at the Sheriff’s Office, along with the trust that our citizens have in us to carry out our duties on a daily basis in a manner prescribed by law,” Fleener said.

If convicted of the sexual misconduct charge, Valenti would be required to register with the Iowa Sex Offender Registry.

Valenti is being held at the Webster County Jail on a $22,000 cash-only bond. She is scheduled to have her preliminary hearing Dec. 29.

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