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Judge recognizes inmate for potential

Dumont Hodges Williams Gayles

By Janice Gregorson

gregor@postbulletin.com

Antuan Williams dabbed his eyes while listening to Judge Joseph Wieners on Thursday morning.

It wasn't because the judge had just imposed a prison sentence for drug activity.

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Rather, it was because the judge recognized something else -- his potential.

The 23-year-old Rochester man is one of four inmates recently awarded the sheriff's letter of recognition for coming to the aid of a detention deputy who had fainted while on duty alone in the county jail.

It happened the evening of Oct. 7. Last Friday, Borchardt presented Williams and the other three with the letters after telling all the other inmates in the housing unit of their actions.

"They got a rousing round of applause from everyone in the unit,'' Borchardt said Thursday after making the awards public.

About the same time, Williams was in court, being sentenced on a drug charge and for violation of terms of probation from a prior drug conviction. He was given 33- and 48-month prison terms, to run concurrently. He also received credit for more than a year he has already served in jail.

During the sentencing, his attorney, Candace Rasmussen, read Borchardt's letter, which told how Williams had helped Deputy Ruth Nielsen when she fainted.

Williams was instrumental in alerting on-duty staff outside the housing unit that help was needed. He also helped the other three in getting other detainees to back up and give Nielsen space.

Nielsen's supervisor, Sgt. Laura Thimijan, nominated the four inmates for the awards, saying they "handled the incident with kindness and compassion."

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Thimijan said the four assured Nielsen's safety in a time of need.

"They just did it and did it right,'' she said.

Wieners ordered that a copy of the letter be attached to Williams' sentencing order and sent to the Department of Corrections.

"All too often, the public gets a notion that all inmates are all evil and there is no good in them,'' he said.

He said he wants the Department of Corrections to know that they are getting a "guy with some problems, but also a guy with some potential."

Others honored by Borchardt are Timothy Gayles, Quiiave Hodges and Steven Dumont.

Borchardt said the four have proven the point he has stressed over and over.

"Our jail is filled with people that aren't criminals all day every day. They committed something that got them in jail, but that doesn't mean they are always bad people. There are many decent people who find themselves in jail."

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Thimijan said Dumont caught Nielsen and prevented her from falling and hitting her head on the concrete floor. Gayles pushed Nielsen's emergency radio button to get help and kept a lookout for staff at the unit door to direct them to Nielsen. Hodges was credited with using the housing unit phone in the command center to alert other staff to the emergency.

Borchardt said the outcome could have been different. Nielsen was alone in the housing unit with the inmates.

"It's imaginable that under many circumstances, inmates would not be expected or do the right thing in the human interest of another human being. These guys did the right thing,'' he said.

"In a worst-case scenario, they could have taken advantage of her,'' Borchardt said.

They could have used the opportunity to try to stage a takeover similar to the one that occurred a year ago. Or, the sheriff said, they could have displayed "benign neglect."

"But they didn't do any of the bad stuff. They did the right thing,'' he said.

Borchardt attributes part of it to what he calls a "good and respectful relationship" between staff and inmates.

"They (inmates) may be angry about their circumstances in life, but obviously they aren't taking it out on staff,'' Borchardt said.

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