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  • Writer's pictureSam Orlando

Middle River Regional Jail Faces Allegations of Preferential Treatment as Indictments Loom for Sheriff's Brother

Written by: Sam Orlando

Grand Jury Indictments Looming

AUGUSTA COUNTY, VIRGINIA - As the Shenandoah Valley braces for the upcoming grand jury indictments of Ronald William Smith, brother of Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith, Middle River Regional Jail (MRRJ) confronts allegations of preferential treatment within its walls. The indictments, scheduled for April 15, follow a judge's certification of the case, intensifying scrutiny on Ronald Smith's legal entanglements and the correctional facility's treatment of inmates.

Allegations of Unequal Treatment at MRRJ

Reports from inmates at MRRJ have surfaced, alleging that Ronald Smith has been the beneficiary of special accommodations not afforded to others in similar custody situations. These claims suggest that Smith, despite facing serious charges including attempted aggravated murder of police officers, has been spared the restrictive 23/1 lockdown conditions typically applied to inmates in protective custody. In 23/1 lockdown conditions, an inmate is confined to their cell for 23 hours per day.

An inmate, housed adjacent to Smith, recounted overhearing jail staff, including a captain and Lt. Colonel Tony Heflin, Deputy Superintendent, discussing efforts to provide Smith with a more comfortable housing situation due to his unique status.

The inmate's account further alleges that Smith was moved to a less restrictive pod, described as medical overflow, an option they claim was denied to others with similar requests for reclassification. This perceived disparity in treatment has raised concerns about the principles of fairness and equality in the jail's operations.

MRRJ's Official Response

In response to these allegations, Lt. Colonel Tony Heflin offered a categorical denial of any preferential treatment based on familial ties or external relationships. Heflin emphasized that the jail's standards are uniform and that Ronald Smith has been treated like any other inmate, without special measures or accommodations. He also confirmed the existence of a pod designed for inmates who cannot integrate into the general population, stating that transfers to Restrictive Housing are standard procedure for those unable to adhere to the pod's rules.

The inmate who reported the unequal treatment has no institutional infractions, and he claims he is subject to 23/1 housing because of protective custody. He claims the jail has furnished an overflow unit to house the Sheriff's brother, where the inmates allege he enjoys many expanded freedoms, including access to recreation and not being locked down for the majority of the day.

Despite the jail's rebuttal, details regarding Ronald Smith's exact housing conditions and the criteria for inmate classification remain under scrutiny, with calls for further transparency from MRRJ officials. I asked Lt. Col. Heflin more about the medical overflow unit and whether Smith was indeed housed there for clarification, but have not heard back as of press time.

Impending Legal Challenges

The backdrop to these allegations is Ronald Smith's serious legal predicament, underscored by the judge's recent decision to certify his case to the grand jury in Staunton. The charges, felony drug violations, not only cast a shadow over Ronald Smith but also invite a broader examination of justice administration in cases involving individuals with significant law enforcement connections.

Pending Augusta County Charges

In addition to the felony drug and assault charges in the City of Staunton, Smith also faces two counts of aggravated murder of a police officer and a slew of other charges from a December incident where Smith allegedly stole his brother's truck.

Looking Forward

As the story unfolds, the juxtaposition of Ronald Smith's pending legal challenges against the backdrop of allegations of unequal treatment at MRRJ highlights the complexities of administering justice impartially. The community, legal observers, and advocates alike await the outcomes of both the grand jury's deliberations and the ongoing scrutiny of MRRJ's practices, hopeful for resolutions that underscore the principles of fairness and transparency in the correctional system.

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