Knowing many probation officers, I sure believe the allegations of misconduct in the lawsuit!
Excerpts from the Article:
In August 2017, a judge weighed sending Kisha Reilly to prison for years, but opted for mercy and a probation sentence that would be one more chance for Reilly to put longtime substance abuse problems behind her.
A year later to that day, Reilly died from a drug overdose.
In that year, her family claims she was coerced into a sexual relationship by one of her probation officers as he turned a blind eye to failed drug tests and helped fund both her drug use and court-ordered rehabilitation, according to a lawsuit filed by her son and widower.
The lawsuit was filed without the representation of an attorney in August 2020. It makes claims of wrongful death and negligence against the probation officer, Dave Turko, as well as the Department of Correction and its probation section. The defendants were only recently served, and, earlier this week, an attorney was appointed to represent Turko, so they have not responded to the allegations of the lawsuit in court.
Because Kisha Reilly is dead and irrefutable text-message evidence is not available, we can’t know the exact nature of Reilly’s relationship with Turko.
But their undeniably unprofessional connection — evidenced by things like hundreds of phone calls back and forth between the two each month — raises questions about the Delaware Department of Correction’s willingness to police its own employees. It also exposes a gap in state law that fails to clearly place consequences on officers who abuse their authority over those getting out of prison or on court-ordered probation.
Armed with phone records, receipts and other evidence pulled from Kisha Reilly’s bedroom months after she died, her family demanded an investigation from the Department of Correction, the state entity that runs probation.
Department policy forbids relationships between probation officers and probationers. Most other states criminally prosecute probation officers for sexual relationships with probationers, regardless of consent. The common thinking is that consent is impossible when a probation officer can instantly strip a person of their freedom.
And while it is a felony in Delaware for a police or correctional officer to have sex with a person in their custody, regardless of consent, neither state prosecutors nor state correction officials say the law applies to such contact between a probationer and their supervising officer.
And so, demands for investigation only led to Turko resigning his job before he could be interviewed by correction’s internal affairs unit, and his oversight of Reilly was never considered by prosecutors.
Turko now works for the Red Clay Consolidated School District at John Dickinson High School in Milltown, according to a school district spokeswoman who would not disclose Turko’s job title. Turko did not return numerous phone calls and attempts to reach him through his ex-wife and the school district. The attorney representing him in the lawsuit filed by Reilly’s family declined to comment on his behalf.
The situation appears to be a failure in accountability.
“It is an interesting question about Delaware law: whether they are reading it right or choosing not to read it to not draw attention,” said Martin Horn, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation and a retired professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
The situation leaves her family, particularly her 19-year-old son and her husband, who remains imprisoned for his part in the pawn shop racket that saw Reilly sentenced to probation, grasping for answers and what they see as accountability.
Reilly pleaded guilty to criminal solicitation, theft and drug charges tied to a shoplifting racket run out of the Gold Fever pawn shop she operated with her husband in Middletown. She also pleaded to a DUI she had while out on bail for charges tied to the racket. At her sentencing, prosecutors pointed out her previous 27 arrests in three different states and 14 subsequent violations of probations as reason to lock her up. Her defense attorney pointed out recent efforts and improvement fighting longstanding substance abuse problems.
Evidence seized as part of the investigation into the Gold Fever pawn shop run by Shaun and Kisha Reilly. In court, prosecutors accused the Reillys of participating in a scheme to recruit individuals suffering from drug addiction to shoplift items that would later be sold at the pawn shop. At her sentencing hearing, the judge decided that she was not going to “incarcerate” the “very poor judgement” out of Reilly, “this time, anyway.” She made clear that anything other than “strict compliance” by Reilly with her probation terms would land her in prison.
Her house arrest terms included “zero tolerance” for nonprescribed drugs and alcohol and gave her probation officer the power to arrest her without a warrant, according to the court document.
“You are going to be the best probationer your probation officer has ever met,” said Judge Andrea Rocanelli at the sentencing.
Turko was assigned to oversee her house arrest during her first six months of probation. His job title was senior probation officer with the ability to approve or disapprove progress or violation reports and give “informal guidance” to junior officers, according to corrections officials.
The lawsuit filed by Shaun Reilly, Kisha Reilly’s husband of 16 years, claims that Turko “coerced” an “ongoing, continuous” sexual relationship with Kisha Reilly, enlisting “his authority” to overlook failed drug screens in return.
The lawsuit said this coercion started when he had direct supervision over her probation and continued after she was taken off house arrest and was under the direct supervision of a female officer until Reilly died. That officer did not return phone calls seeking comment.
To back up these claims, Shaun Reilly and his family lean on Kisha Reilly’s conversations with them before she died — conversations echo allegations in the lawsuit. But they also have hard evidence connecting the two: including phone records, receipts and canisters of “law enforcement unit” pepper spray, which they found in her room after she died.
Phone records retrieved by Kisha Reilly’s family after her death show the two began frequent communication in early November 2017, two months after she had been assigned to his authority. Through the end of that month, there were more than 130 calls or voice messages either from or to Turko’s personal phone in addition to a dozen or so involving his work number.
In most months until June, the last month for which the family has phone records, there are either close to or more than 200 phone calls or voicemails involving his work or personal line in addition to a smattering of calls from the Cherry Lane probation officers to Kisha Reilly’s phones.
Kisha Reilly’s family said they have not been able to access text message records.
Her son and her mother-in-law, who shared a home with Reilly, said Turko’s presence was noticed either in phone communication or Turko picking Reilly up to go to work or other places.
She was employed at a local gym as well as Hak’s Sports Bar, a strip club on Wilmington’s south side. The manager of the club – who was also in regular communication with Kisha Reilly, records indicate – declined to comment for this story.
Mason Reilly, Kisha Reilly’s son, said Turko befriended him; would bring food to their home; attended one of his wrestling matches; and communicated with him via text messages, which Delaware Online/The News Journal has reviewed. One time, he and his mother went to a massage and she called Turko to pay for it over the phone, her son said.
After Kisha Reilly died, her family found evidence of other purchases the lawsuit said he made on her behalf. Those included a receipt for a monthly recurring payment of about $80 for Reilly’s court-ordered Breathalyzer with payment information that includes a card bearing his name. They also found Turko’s name on a receipt for court-ordered counseling, a spa receipt and a receipt for a gift card for a clothing store in Bear.
In a series of conversations from Howard R. Young Correctional Institution where he is serving a nine-year sentence for the pawn shop racket and weapons charges, Shaun Reilly described details from his lawsuit, saying he confronted his wife about how much time she spent and communication she had with Turko.
He said she told him Turko was a “friend” giving her “safe passage” through her probationary period. He said she later told him that Turko covered for her “dirty urines.”
“As an addict, if you know there is no consequences to your actions, you just continue down your self-destructive path,” Shaun Reilly said. “With that knowledge, there was nothing more in place to stop her from using drugs.”
Denise Toy, Shaun Reilly’s mother who lived in the same home as Kisha Reilly, said she argued with her daughter-in-law over her closeness with Turko. One time, Kisha Reilly asked Toy if she would allow Turko to move into the home with them, she said.
Another time, Mason Reilly said, toward the end of her life, his mother told him she had to end her relationship with Turko. There was another time Toy received a text message, reviewed by Delaware Online/The News Journal, from Kisha Reilly that was apparently meant for Turko from two months before she died. It addresses him as Dave in the message and discusses sexual contact and what appears to be a fading, romantic relationship.
A separate fight with Toy prompted Kisha Reilly to explain to her that Turko cared about them and had covered for her dirty urines, Toy stated. Another family friend said Kisha Reilly told him the same thing.
Available court records indicate that Turko and the other officer that took over her supervision never reported any failed drug tests to the court. Correction officials said she had never failed a drug test administered by the Department of Correction, but declined to provide relevant records citing the pending litigation.
In Kisha Reilly’s room after her death, her family found personal notes reminding her to urinate a lot and drink lots of water on certain dates.
Her family also found records of four separate drug tests that indicate the presence of nonprescribed medications including Xanax, morphine and other prescription narcotics. The urinalysis screenings were ordered by Wilmington Doctor Pasquale Fucci of Brandywine Medical Associates. It appears they were not part of her court-ordered programming. Erica Mutter, an official for Brandywine, declined to comment on the specific documents.
Mason Reilly said Turko began texting him, asking if he had heard from her and later suggested someone kick down the door to her room. When a family member did later that afternoon, they found her dead. A medical examiner would conclude she died of an overdose involving cocaine, heroin and fentanyl. She was 37 years old.
After Delaware State Police combed the room, Denise Toy showed the text message she believes Kisha Reilly inadvertently sent to her instead of Turko. She told a detective that she believed they were in an inappropriate relationship.
She gave them a memory card from the camera facing their front door, hoping to substantiate their suspicion that Turko was there the night she died. State police also eventually took possession of one of Kisha Reilly’s cellphones, Toy said. The family believes state police still have that and the camera memory card.
State police Senior Cpl. Heather Pepper, a spokeswoman for the department, declined to say whether police took any action over Toy’s concern or the data they received. State police also declined a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records as to the existence of any investigation.
Delaware law gives police cover to hide all records detailing their investigatory work when someone is not arrested.
Toy said they never heard anything from state police about it and eventually she turned to the Department of Correction.
She has a cardboard box she carries to meetings with journalists, attorneys and private investigators. It contains items from Kisha Reilly’s room, phone records, receipts, drug screens, pepper spray and other letters she says are evidence of an inappropriate relationship.
She brought that box to meet with officials in the Department of Correction’s Internal Affairs unit in April 2019 following Kisha Reilly’s death. After laying out her concerns, she was told to give the investigators 30 days and then contact them.
Mason Reilly said before those 30 days were up, he got a message from a family friend that said Turko had resigned. Toy then called one of the investigators, who told her “we were calling him in for questioning, but he resigned,” she recalled.
She said she remembered thinking, “That’s it?”
“It’s not right,” she said. “A woman is dead.”
Correction officials defended their response to Toy’s complaint. They said they have no power to compel a former employee to conduct an interview. They said they investigated the report, even after he resigned, but found “no actionable criminal offense to report to an outside criminal agency.”
They declined to detail what investigative steps they took.
Corrections has a thorough policy for how sexual contact, regardless of consent, within its prisons and work-release facilities is to be investigated. That policy, based on provisions of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, states that if “an allegation indicates criminal behavior,” DOC will refer it to state police. And when the “quality of evidence appears to support criminal prosecution,” it states that DOC investigators shall force interviews after consulting with prosecutors to make sure such interviews won’t hinder a future criminal case. It also states that allegations of sex abuse will be investigated “thoroughly” until it is determined to be substantiated, unsubstantiated or unfounded and that determination will rest on whether there is a greater than 50% chance the allegation is true.
The policy states that it applies to all DOC “employees” and all offenders under the “custody or supervision” of DOC, but, in a written statement, Jason Miller, Correction Department spokesman, said it applies only to sexual contact involving people actually locked up in one of the state’s prisons or work release facilities.
So it’s unclear what steps they took or evidence they sought beyond Toy’s box.
Other Department of Correction written policies state that they may request investigatory backup from state police “when necessary.” Policy also states that for employees determined to have committed a crime, “resignation in lieu of prosecution shall not be permitted,” unless approved by the commissioner.
Based on the lawsuit, interviews with the family and emails exchanged with the Department of Correction, it appears corrections never enlisted investigatory help from state police despite the police already having potential cellphone evidence turned over by Kisha Reilly’s family when she died.
The Delaware Department of Justice, the state’s criminal prosecutors, said they’d never received a report of this situation from corrections.
Even if investigators put in the work to substantiate that there was, as the lawsuit claims, sexual contact between Kisha Reilly and Turko, corrections officials said they do not see it as a violation of Delaware’s criminal law.
Delaware law lists two separate crimes dealing with law enforcement officers having sex or sexual contact with those under their authority. That includes correctional officers working in local prisons.
While there is no question that probation officers are legally considered law enforcement officers, DOC officials don’t believe the law applies to probation officers. The law states that it is a felony for a “law enforcement officer” to engage in any sexual contact, regardless of consent, with any person in “custody.” The law defines “custody” as “restraint by a public servant pursuant to an arrest, detention or an order of a court.”
Effectively, aspects of a probationer’s life are restrained by the court order placing them on house arrest and probation, but Miller argued that the more appropriate way to legally describe the power a probation officer has over a probationer is “supervision,” not “custody” and thus the law does not apply.
The Delaware Department of Justice, which employs attorneys that interpret criminal law to prosecute crimes, neither agreed nor disagreed with that interpretation.
“Honestly, we can’t say one way or the other — we haven’t been able to find case law or precedent that addresses the question,” wrote Mat Marshall, spokesperson for the DOJ.
Horn, the New York probation official, said most states have criminal laws covering such conduct and questioned whether corrections officials’ interpretation of the law is self-serving. He added that there might have been scope to investigate potential official misconduct — the law that bars public officials from using their government power for personal gain.
“The question is why the state of Delaware does not want to take action,” Horn said.
Beyond potential criminal ramifications, if Turko were to apply to another probation-officer position elsewhere and asked Delaware corrections officials for a recommendation or job history, officials said they could not divulge any information regarding the allegations made by Reilly’s family.
Brian Lovins, incoming president of the American Probation and Parole Association, said there needs to be a more broad, national set of standards for probation officer conduct, something his organization is working on. Lovins noted laws criminalizing inappropriate relationships do not always work as a deterrent, but there needs to be some mechanism to ensure the officer engaged in such conduct can’t assume the same job in another jurisdiction.
“There should be laws, they should be applicable and they should set consequences,” Lovins said.
Toy’s last conversation with corrections internal affairs in April 2019 was the last time her family heard from any law enforcement source on the issue. They wrote letters to state government officials and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. “If this isn’t enough evidence for someone to take a look at this thing, I don’t know what will do,” Shaun Reilly said.
They went to attorneys, who all wanted money to get involved, Toy said. “We don’t have money,” said Toy, whose family was also assessed a civil judgment for the pawn shop racket.
So as the two-year anniversary of Kisha Reilly’s death approached — along with the two-year statute of limitations for seeking civil court damages — Shaun Reilly filed his lawsuit.
“This was the only last and final effort and push I could make,” Shaun Reilly said. “I’m still her husband to this day. In death, it does not change. The love I have for her will not go away.” Through the litigation, the family hopes to compel other evidence proving the exact nature of the relationship.
Beyond the hard evidence they have showing an unprofessional connection, the lawsuit makes more broad allegations, specifically that he funded her drug habit. Shaun Reilly said that is based off hearsay in prison as well as speculation.
They hope to at some point be able to subpoena text messages and other evidence that may show more.
He dismissed the idea of him bringing the litigation as a jealous husband. He said he is “angry” and the idea that Kisha Reilly might have in some ways welcomed the relationship “does not make it right.” “If you take advantage of people, you need to be held to account,” Shaun Reilly said. “No matter if you are a public servant or a civilian.”
And while they don’t have hard records drawing a direct line between her death and Turko right now, Shaun Reilly said he believes if Turko had done his job honestly, his wife would still be alive.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, but Shaun Reilly said that is secondary. He wants what he sees as justice and said Turko deserves to be “in cuffs.” “If the line is not drawn, it will continue to happen.”