Jan. 23-CLARK COUNTY - A former Clark County jailer accused of selling an access key to an inmate has requested a protective order that would ban all parties from communicating publicly about two federal cases.
David J. Lowe was arrested in October 2021 after authorities accused him of selling the key to an inmate. Lowe is facing felony criminal charges of escape and official misconduct in Clark County with a jury trial scheduled for June.
The incident has led to the filing of two federal civil cases with female plaintiffs claiming they were sexually assaulted by male inmates after they gained access to their pod areas after the key was sold.
The request, often referred to as a gag order, was filed on behalf of Lowe in the U.S. District Court Southern District of New Albany Division in December. The filing points to "extensive" coverage of the case in local news media and an "undue" number of statements from Clark County law enforcement officials.
The plaintiffs included former Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel in the federal cases, as the sheriff's office manages the jail. Noel launched the website Clarkfacts.com in response to the allegations and lawsuit.
Noel and other sheriff's office officials have maintained that Lowe was swiftly investigated and arrested after they learned of the incident. Noel has released on the website video interviews and statements that he said shows "winning a major lawsuit" inspired some of the allegations in the federal cases.
Lowe includes Clarkfacts.com in his protective order request. The last post on the site was made Oct. 13, 2022. There's also a copy of one news article in Lowe's filing.
Video released on the site and surveillance videos obtained by the News and Tribune through open records requests show male inmates entering the female pod area on the night in question. But the sheriff's office maintains the videos show there was "no one in obvious distress."
"In fact, the surveillance footage shows male and female inmates talking in open areas and casually walking back and forth," a post from Aug. 16, 2022 states on the website.
In a response filed Jan. 17, Noel's attorney argues Lowe fails to demonstrate the requisite "serious and imminent threat" standard for keeping the former sheriff from speaking with media.
"The need to limit Sheriff Noel's contact with the media by means of a protective order is premature and would impermissibly impede the exercise of his counsel's first amendment rights - a consideration this Court should never take lightly and especially in this instance where an elected official is attempting to provide information to aide in his efforts of transparency with the public concerning a matter of public interest," Noel's attorney wrote in response to the request.
Noel met his consecutive term limit for sheriff last year. Scottie Maples, who was chief deputy at the time of the incident, won the election and took office as sheriff in January. He named Noel as a major in the department.
In a joint response filed with the court last week, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs also requested the judge deny the gag order.
"Defendant Lowe has failed to set forth any comments or statements that would pose a serious and imminent threat of interference with the fair administration of justice," attorneys stated in the filing. "Additionally, Lowe has failed to show how the comments and statements within the news article and website could not be managed through ordinary procedures for screening potential jurors, such as the voir dire process, to ensure an impartial jury."
The judge hadn't ruled on the request as of Monday afternoon.