Former Wayne County Jail contract employee accused of smuggling phone, pot

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — A 28-year-old former contract employee of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office faces three felony charges, as authorities allege she smuggled a cell phone to an inmate at the Wayne County Jail and brought nearly an ounce of pot into the facility.

In a press conference Tuesday morning, Sheriff Raphael Washington said the former contractor, Ashton McDougal, made "thousands of dollars" from illicit transactions during a five-month tenure working in food service, a job offering direct contact with inmates.

Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington, center, discusses the arrest of Ashton McDougal, a 28-year-old contract employee who worked in food service inside the Wayne County Jail, on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. McDougal faces three felony charges, as authorities allege she smuggled a cell phone to an inmate at the jail and brought nearly an ounce of pot into the facility.

McDougal said it isn't clear whether McDougal was in business for herself or was compromised by an inmate. 

Since McDougal's Nov. 29 arrest, Washington said she has been cooperative with investigators. 

But it's the run-up to the arrest that's of concern for the sheriff's office. When McDougal was searched, she was allegedly found to have 24 grams of marijuana on her.

Her attorney did not immediately return a request for comment.

Ashton McDougal

Asked if it's possible the drugs were for personal use, that McDougal may have mistakenly carried the drugs into the jail, Washington said: "Absolutely not. And that's from her own confession."

The internal affairs investigation was sparked two weeks before the arrest when marijuana was found at the jail. 

Court records allege that incident took place on Nov. 16. Washington said it's not yet known how much of McDougal's five-month tenure was spent allegedly smuggling things in.

"If it was marijuana today, it can be a gun tomorrow," Washington said. 

Washington cited the Sept. 11, 1991 murder of Sgt. William Dickerson by a Wayne County Jail inmate as the worst of what can happen when there is smuggling in a jail setting. Dickerson, 52, was killed by an inmate who'd been sentenced to life in prison in another murder case a day prior. 

Detroit police believed that Dickerson's killer, Darren Paige, was smuggled a gun by someone at the ground level, and lifted it into the jail using a rope.

Cpl. Reginald Crawford, president of the union that represents Wayne County sheriff's deputies, on Tuesday blamed the staffing squeeze for a lack of proper oversight of a contractor.

He said that both jail facilities downtown should have been "shaken down," or searched for contraband after the drugs were found.

There is a third Wayne County Jail facility in Hamtramck, named in the late Sgt. Dickerson's honor, but it has not held inmates for months. They were moved out several months ago due to low staffing levels.

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Crawford said that the jails have dealt with smuggling for months. Earlier this year, deputies found a sheet tied to a window and hanging down into the street outside the division one jail. 

In addition to the pot, Washington said there was also a “brown powdery substance” found in a ward where McDougal worked. That was confirmed to be fentanyl, he said.

McDougal has denied any connection to the substance, he added.

She now faces two counts of furnishing contraband to prisoners and one count of furnishing a cell phone to a prisoner.

Police say further investigation revealed an inmate named Dawaun McQueen, 25, as the recipient of the smuggled cell phone.

The sheriff's office says marijuana was found in the "division two" jail about two weeks ago, sparking an investigation. Division two handles Wayne County inmates facing serious charges, or who are believed to be a security risk.

McQueen has been jailed since July 2019. He initially faced 30 felony charges, including three counts each of assault with intent to murder, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, and with assault a deadly weapon, and 14 counts of felony firearm.

Dawaun McQueen

But two charges — firing from a moving vehicle causing injury, and one count of felony firearm — were dropped at his preliminary exam.

Initially, McQueen was given a $1 million bond, but in April 2020 that was lowered to $400,000. McQueen is due for a pretrial hearing on Dec. 22 before Wayne Circuit Court Judge Kelly Ramsey.

McQueen now faces a second case: use or possession of a cell phone in jail, with a third-time offender enhancement. 

In the new case, McQueen was given a $20,000/10% bond. But even if that bond was paid, the $400,000 bond would need to be paid for McQueen to be released before he stands trial.

McQueen is due for a Dec. 13 probable cause conference before 36th District Court Judge Patricia Jefferson.

McDougal, who otherwise has no criminal record, was given a $5,000/10% bond at her arraignment. She posted the $500 and is on tether supervision. McDougal has the same Dec. 13 court date as McQueen, before Judge Patricia Jefferson.