ALBANY, Ga. -- Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul said Wednesday he is saddened that one of his most trusted employees at the Dougherty County Jail is accused of using his position as a detention officer to access confidential inmate information and disseminate it to the community.
Charles Lamon Tharpe is charged with a total of four counts related to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation inquiry into how personal information was leaked at the jail.
Released Wednesday on bond, Tharpe is believed to have accessed the Dougherty jail's inmate database and computer system to obtain confidential information about inmates, which he would then pass along to people outside of the jail. Those individuals would use the information to open accounts, among other things.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Sproul toed the line in his role as sheriff, saying that Tharpe has been suspended from his position without pay at the jail, while admitting the accusations levied against a person he said was a longtime friend left him scratching his head.
"He wasn't someone I'd see at work and wave at," Sproul said. "He had helped us numerous times with 'Shop with a Sheriff' and with our school programs. He is someone I consider to be a friend as much as a co-worker, and to see this happen to him just leaves you wondering what he was thinking."
Sproul said the department received a tip that the information may have been inappropriately accessed and leaked from a staff member, prompting the sheriff to call in the GBI and recuse himself and his department from the investigation to avoid any perception of favoritism or interference.
Tharpe is the first person arrested in connection with this particular investigation, although Sproul said he may not be the last.
"It's still an active and ongoing investigation," Sproul said. "The GBI is still working it, and there could be more before they're finished."
The alleged breach of security involving confidential public information is hardly the first for those in the public safety field in Albany.
Last year, the Albany E-911 center was investigated after allegations surfaced that dispatchers may have been aiding criminals by performing unauthorized background checks. Four dispatchers fell under suspicion, and three were terminated. One resigned.
The Dougherty District's Attorney's office is currently deliberating whether to move forward with an indictment in that case.