Whatcom corrections deputy arrested for alleged intimate relationship with an inmate

Maximum security cell block at the Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham.
Maximum security cell block at the Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham. The Bellingham Herald file

A male Whatcom County corrections deputy allegedly had an intimate relationship with a female inmate at the Whatcom County Jail, both while she was in the jail and after being released, and threatened her with solitary confinement in an attempt to cover up the relationship.

The Bellingham Police Department, which was tasked with investigating reports of the incident, booked Adam Garrett Miller, 36, of Bellingham into Whatcom County Jail Monday on suspicion of second-degree custodial sexual misconduct and intimidating a witness. Miller was moved to the Skagit County Community Justice Center, according to a press release from the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, and made his first appearance in Whatcom County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon.

According to Whatcom County Jail records, Miller was released on personal recognizance at 5:20 p.m. Tuesday.

“The Sheriff’s Office is committed to conformance with the highest standards of professional, ethical and legal conduct at all times and has a standard of no tolerance for instances of inappropriate treatment or violation of rules and regulations regarding interactions with inmates,” the press release stated. “It is of paramount importance to the members and leadership of the Sheriff’s Office that the public trust not be violated and that all persons are treated fairly and appropriately as we perform our daily duties.”

According to information provided by Bellingham Police Lt. Claudia Murphy in an email Monday to The Bellingham Herald, between August of 2017 and approximately February 2018, Miller and the female inmate had personal and physical contact inside and outside the jail. They reportedly spoke over the phone and texted each other while she was out of jail and talked frequently when she was housed at the jail, sharing personal information the female inmate would not have otherwise known about Miller.

According to the police investigation, the female inmate was booked into Whatcom County Jail in August of 2017 and housed on the third-floor tier. There she frequently was supervised by Miller.

The inmate said there was “chemistry” between Miller and herself, the police investigation stated, as the two began to talk and flirt with each other. Miller reportedly often called the female inmate in her cell on a non-recorded phone line and privately spoke with her.

Miller wrote the inmate a note, the police investigation said, telling the female inmate she was “too pretty for this” and “he wanted to continue seeing her on the outside.” The inmate reportedly showed the note to a fellow inmate.

At one point, Miller asked the female inmate “what would you do if I kissed you?” the police investigation said. The inmate consented to the kiss, and the two moved to an area of the jail that couldn’t be seen by surveillance cameras and kissed, according to the police investigation. Miller also allegedly took the female inmate from her cell to escape the view of cameras on another occasion.

Miller gave the female inmate his mailing address and personal phone number, asking her to contact him, the police investigation stated, and Miller wrote letters to her while she was incarcerated, using an alias to disguise his identity.

In October 2017, after the female had been released from jail, Miller showed up at her friend’s apartment to contact her, the police report said. Another houseguest, who also had been an inmate and recognized Miller as a corrections deputy, also was at the apartment. They decided not to open the door to avoid being seen by anyone associated with law enforcement.

In March 2018, Miller overheard another inmate discuss that he and the female were rumored to have had a relationship, the police statement said, and Miller reported the allegation to Whatcom County Jail staff to attempt to dispel the rumor. An investigation conducted by jail staff concluded the rumor was unfounded.

In December 2018, the same female was booked back into Whatcom County Jail. At that time, Miller reportedly asked a co-worker to bring her out of her cell to an area in full view of the cameras and told her the rumors she was spreading about him were untrue and that he would not tolerate her telling people they were in a relationship.

According to the police investigation, Miller also told the female inmate that if he heard her spreading the rumor again, he would place her in “isolation” — keeping her in her cell for 23 hours a day — and would file a harassment charge against her.

The female inmate felt the relationship she had with Miller was consensual, the police investigation said, and she was “humiliated” by his claims. She also reportedly felt threatened by Miller’s statements that he would put her in isolation and bringing a harassment charge, and she didn’t feel her behavior had met the criteria for solitary confinement.

The female inmate reported the relationship with Miller to law enforcement, and according to the press release, the Sheriff’s Office was notified on Jan. 8. Murphy said Bellingham Police were asked to investigate on Jan. 9.

According to RCW 9A.44.170, a person is guilty of second-degree custodial sexual misconduct “when the person has sexual contact with another person when the victim is a resident of a state, county or city adult or juvenile correctional facility,” and “the perpetrator is an employee or contract personnel of a correctional agency and the perpetrator has, or the victim reasonably believes the perpetrator has, the ability to influence the terms, conditions, length or fact of incarceration or correctional supervision.” Consent of the victim is not a defense and the charge is a gross misdemeanor.

Miller was contacted by Bellingham Police on Tuesday and was booked without incident.

According to the release, the Bellingham Police will remain the primary investigating department on the criminal case, which takes precedence, though the Sheriff’s Office also will conduct an internal administrative investigation.

The release said Miller has been employed by Whatcom County since February of 2017.

According to The Herald’s archives, Miller’s arrest for custodial sexual misconduct is the first in Whatcom County since 2007, when there were two incidents.

In March 2007, Whatcom County corrections deputy Samuel E. Porret, 36 at the time, was arrested after he grabbed the buttocks of a female inmate and made crude comments while transporting her in an elevator at the Whatcom County Jail. Porret was given a yearlong deferred sentence, according to Herald archives.

In November 2007, Tammra J. Baechler, 35 at the time, of Everson, was arrested after having sexual contact with a 38-year-old Ferndale woman at the Security Specialists Plus Baker Creek facility, a privately run minimum security jail that Whatcom County formerly had a contract with. Baechler pleaded guilty to custodial misconduct and received an 18-month deferred sentence and community service, according to court records.

Sheriff Bill Elfo recommended at the time that the county not renew its $500,000 annual contract with Security Specialists Plus after the incident, which he called the “latest in a series of events.”

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.