Ex-Windsor Female Guard Pleads Guilty to Sex With Male Inmate

Leanne Salls, of Hartford, Vt., appears in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on Sept. 24, 2013. (Eric Francis photograph)

Leanne Salls, of Hartford, Vt., appears in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on Sept. 24, 2013. (Eric Francis photograph)

A former prison guard from Hartford has pleaded guilty to charges that she had sex with an inmate inside a Windsor prison, in a case that emerged when her supervisors learned that she was pregnant with the inmate’s child.

Leanne Salls, 30, pleaded guilty this week to a misdemeanor charge of prohibited acts, and received a one-year deferred sentence for a consensual encounter that occurred in 2011 in Southeast State Correctional Facility.

The relationship came to light after the inmate sent a note to Salls, confiscated by prison guards, in which he inquired about her pregnancy.

“Are you happy about the loaf of bread we have in the oven?” he wrote, according to an affidavit filed at Windsor Superior Court.

A genetic link was confirmed after investigators collected DNA samples from Salls, the inmate, and the child during the investigation, according to court documents.

Salls was initially charged with sexual exploitation of an inmate, a felony that carries a five-year maximum prison sentence.

The inmate asked authorities not to press charges against Salls and said he was the one that initiated sex, authorities said.

“Whatever evidence you have, put it on me,” he told investigators, according to an affidavit. “I did everything. I came on to her.”

As a general practice, the Valley News does not identify victims of alleged sex crimes. The inmate, who is serving a sentence for a nonviolent crime, remains incarcerated.

Windsor County State’s Attorney Michael Kainen said the plea agreement balanced the law’s desire to protect inmates — male or female — from guards in positions of authority with the special circumstances of the incident, including the need of the 1-year-old child to have a parent at home.

Additionally, Kainen said, while the law does not make an exception for a sexual encounter between a guard and inmate that is consensual, the investigation found that Salls was not the person who initiated the tryst.

“There’s a child that’s born of this, which makes it a provable case, but in terms of what ought to happen, all the evidence I have suggested that he was pursuing her, he initiated contact with her, he was flirting with her, and she yielded to the temptation,” Kainen said. “This is a single mother who has a child. I wasn’t comfortable making her a rapist and having her on the sex offender registry. (But) it was an improper and unprofessional relationship and the message needed to be you can’t do this. It’s an exercise in prosecutorial discretion.”

Salls’ attorney, Elizabeth Kruska, declined to comment yesterday, and Salls did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

State lawmaker passed the sexual exploitation of an inmate law in 2005.

Previously, if the encounter was found to be consensual, no charges would be filed. The 2005 law essentially gave inmates the same level of protection as minors, whom, in the eyes of the law, cannot engage in consensual sex with an adult.

“The concept being that prisons are inherently coercive, and it would be very hard for an inmate to say it was consensual when a prison guard asks for sex,” said Kainen, who was a state representative from Hartford in the Vermont House of Representatives when the law was debated. (It was passed after Kainen left the legislature.)

During that Statehouse debate, Kainen acknowledged most of lawmakers’ concern was for female prisoners, not men.

“Most of what we envisioned was a male guard and a female prisoner and a woman feeling she could not resist,” Kainen said.

The section of the prohibited acts law to which Salls pleaded guilty bans people from engaging in “prostitution, lewdness or assignation.”

Salls started working at the prison in 2006. The inmate arrived at the prison in August 2010, and remains incarcerated today, at a different prison, according to court records.

An affidavit from Vermont State Police Trooper Kim McLeod gives the following account.

Supervisors placed Salls on notice in June 2011 that she was being investigated for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with an inmate. Then in the following weeks prison workers documented several additional “boundary” violations between Salls and the inmate.

In September 2011, Salls was placed on paid administrative leave.

The child was conceived in August or September of 2011.

Officials then obtained the note written by the inmate to Salls referencing the pregnancy.

The affidavit does not explain how Salls and the inmate were able to spend time together without being caught.

A co-worker told investigators that she had passed notes between Salls and the inmate, and had been urged by Salls to keep the relationship “on the down low.”

In May 2012, the inmate began telling fellow prisoners and guards that the child had been born, and he was the father.

“We love each other and it doesn’t make us bad people,” he told a prison guard.

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.