Washington County jailer fired, charged with taking drugs to inmate

Randall K. Burke was arrested Thursday after allegedly bringing drugs to work for an inmate at the Washington County Detention Center.

A Washington County Detention Center officer was arraigned Friday morning on drug charges after being accused of taking methamphetamine and other drugs into the facility, according to a court document filed in Sessions Court.

Randall K. Burke, 52, of Fall Branch, was taken into custody at work around 5:45 p.m. Thursday. The court documents in the case said Burke had a small package wrapped in duct tape in his pocket. In that package, investigators found three orange tablets with markings identifying them as suboxone, four orange-colored strips with markings identifying them as suboxone strips and 3.7 grams of methamphetamine.

Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen confirmed the arrest Friday afternoon. In addition to being arrested on charges of possession of methamphetamine, possession of contraband in a penal facility, attempted criminal conspiracy and schedule III drug violations, Burke was also fired.

Laitinen said the department received information on Thursday that there was going to be an exchange of drugs involving Burke and an inmate. 

“He had apparently met an acquaintance of the inmate to get the package,” Laitinen said. Burke was supposed to earn $200 for the exchange.

Laitinen said she was surprised about the information because Burke didn’t seem like an officer who could be swayed. Nonethess, all tips the department receives are checked out for their validity.

“We get a lot of information that turns out to be nothing, but we investigate them all,” Laitinen said. Officers from the department’s criminal investigation division staged themselves in the parking lot to intercept Burke as he arrived for his 12-hour night shift Thursday.

“As soon as he drove in and got out of his car, they approached and told him about their suspicions. He cooperated fully with officers and admitted he was bringing the drugs into inmates.”

The package was in Burke’s uniform shirt pocket.

“He swore this is the first time and we don’t have any proof otherwise. He said he thought it was only suboxone and didn’t realize there was meth in the package,” Laitinen said.

She said Burke has had multiple deaths in his family recently, including his brother, who was killed in a motorcycle crash in Kingsport. “I believe all the trauma he’s gone through recently played a part in this. I empathize with him, but we still have to do the right thing, as hard as it might be. I can’t turn my head because I feel sorry for him ... he was bringing illegal drugs in here,” she said.

After Burke’s arrest, officers conducted a search in the pod where Burke worked but didn’t find anything illegal, Laitinen said.

Burke had been a detention officer since March 9, 2015, and did not have any previous blemishes on his work record. He was released on a $25,000 bond. His next court hearing is July 10.