Jail deputy praised by judge

Charlette Marshall-Jones: Several people vouch for the good character of the longtime deputy.

By Rodney Thrash, Times Staff Writer
Published February 15, 2008

TAMPA - As Alma Marshall packed for vacation Monday, video of a Hillsborough deputy tossing a quadriplegic from a wheelchair appeared on the 6 p.m. news.

She stared at replays, twice. The deputy looked familiar. Too familiar. But the woman in the video couldn't possibly be the daughter she raised, she thought.

"I know my daughter well enough to know that there was more to it than meets the eye," Marshall said.

On Thursday, family, friends, even a circuit judge offered a far different view of a Charlette Marshall-Jones, 44, a woman whose jailhouse conduct has blasted from YouTube to the homepage of the BBC. The incident has outraged civil rights groups and politicians and sparked reviews from Tampa to Tallahassee.

"She was always appropriate," said Hillsborough Circuit Judge Barbara Fleischer. "She used humor to cajole people who otherwise were difficult to deal with. If anything, she calmed down situations that otherwise might have resulted in confrontation."

Folks in Progress Village, where she grew up and her mother still lives, say that's the Marshall-Jones they know.

"My baby's a jewel," said Marshall, 66, who was in St. Augustine on vacation. "Her concern, 99 percent of the time, is for others."

When her parents separated in 1982, Marshall-Jones withdrew from college so she could get a job and pay her youngest sister's way instead. A graduate of Brandon High, she was in her second year at Hillsborough Community College.

Her mother said she was studying to become a journalist.

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Those plans thwarted, Marshall-Jones set her sights on the Sheriff's Office.

She wanted a deputy's job so bad, childhood neighbor Bob Smith said, she studied alone in her car for peace and quiet.

"She used to park right there," he said, pointing at the intersection of S 86th Street and Birch Avenue. "I used to ask her, 'What are you doing?' She said, 'Mr. Bob, I'm sitting here so I can concentrate without being disturbed.' It was wonderful somebody wanted to do something."

Marshall-Jones began work as a detention deputy in March 1986.

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Three years later, her mother says, she married Harold B. Jones. They divorced in 1995. The union produced no children. The divorce file is no longer available.

Marshall says her daughter has been single ever since. Her personnel file says otherwise.

On her list of beneficiaries, she lists her roommate, Beverly Crecy, as her spouse. The couple disconnected their phone on Thursday and couldn't be reached for comments.

Eventually, Marshall-Jones worked her way up to bailiff at the Tampa courthouse, where she earned the respect of her fellow bailiffs, judges and other members of the staff.

As a bailiff in Fleischer's courtroom, Marshall-Jones had frequent interaction with defendants.

"I never had any issue with anything related with her behavior," Fleischer said.

The judge called her "very bright" and "very appropriate."

Fleischer said Marshall-Jones was "one of the better people I've come into contact with."

Courthouse employees remember being surprised when she requested a transfer back to the jail, a rare move for deputies who have secured a plum courthouse assignment.

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Monday night, after she realized the woman in the video was her daughter, Marshall picked up the phone.

"What happened?" the mother asked.

Marshall wouldn't say what her daughter's response was. She doesn't want to make things any worse than they already are.

Marshall said her daughter loves her job. "Always has," she said. "You have to, to be there that long."

Back on S 86th Street, where Marshall-Jones studied for that sheriff's exam nearly 23 years ago, Smith said he feels helpless. He wishes people would wait to hear both sides of the story before judging Marshall-Jones, a woman he thinks of as his own daughter.

"It's an ugly mess," Smith said, "but somebody's got to say: 'I'm in your corner.' And I'm in her corner.

"She has friends out here - a bunch of them."

Times staff writer Colleen Jenkins contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or 813 269-5303.