Sheriff Russell Thomas responds to recent allegations

Published 3:38 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2023

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*EDITORS NOTE* This story has been updated with comments from Ricky Stokes.

At a press conference in the Pike County Courthouse in Troy on May 30, Sheriff Russell Thomas addressed allegations that have recently been made in the media regarding a lawsuit brought against him.

Thomas said that he was holding the press conference to “clear the air” over recent allegations made towards him. According to court documents, the lawsuit brought against Thomas and District Attorney James Tarbox was made on behalf of David Benton, a Brundidge man indicted on 36 charges connected to the sexual abuse of a child. That lawsuit has now been dismissed, according to Thomas and court documents, as of May 25. Benton’s bond was set at $2.2 million back in March.

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News reports came out from various outlets in May alleging that Thomas violated a court order when he “refused to release” Benton from jail. The bail bonds company wishing to post Benton’s bond is Guaranteed Bail Bonds and Thomas said that Rickey Stokes was the agent that wished to post such bond. Thomas, though, said that Stokes was not an authorized bondsmen in Pike County at the time.

Thomas said that he and Stokes spoke on the phone at 1:50 p.m. on May 16 regarding the matter and he informed Stokes that he couldn’t make the bond because he was not an approved bail bonds agent. On the morning of May 17, the Pike County Sheriff’s Office received notification that Stokes had been approved to make bonds with Guaranteed Bonding Company. According to Thomas, the complaint against he and Tarbox had been filed even before Stokes was approved. Thomas provided documentation to the media supporting his assertion.

Additionally, Thomas said that any TV news reports claiming that he had violated a court order were completely false because he had never been served with a court order.

“You have to be served with a court order to have violated a court order,” Thomas emphasized. “I was never, ever served a court order. All of that is false reporting.”

Thomas also pointed out that it is not his responsibility to approve bail bondsmen but it is his responsibility to ensure that bonds are good bonds.

“My job is to pay close attention and to approve and prove that it is a good, sufficient bond,” Thomas said. “I do have the responsibility to ensure that it is a good, sufficient bond. I have to get that right. I don’t want to be on the hook – or put the county on the hook – for approving a $2.2 million bad bond.

“One thing about me, I don’t always get it right – nobody does – but I try to get it right. These victims and these victims’ families deserve to be protected and we need to make sure we’re doing it right.”

Stokes responded to a request for comment from The Messenger, to add further clarification to the situation.

“The agent, which was approved to sign bonds, had gone to the jail on the Benton bond. The approved agent was told she had to talk to the sheriff,” Stokes said. “My partner called me and told me that, and I said that I would call the sheriff. I called the sheriff and reported the answer to the attorney representing Mr. Benton.

“The attorney, who represents his clients well, filed motions in court. The issue was between the attorneys, not myself. Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas and Rickey Stokes have never had an issue between us, over anything. We have always had a positive relationship in the past and will continue in the future. I respect Russell Thomas as an individual and as sheriff. There was some miscommunication over this bond and the licensed agent, not Rickey Stokes, had gone to sign the bonds when they were set.”

Thomas said that eventually Stokes contacted him and said that he would not be attempting to make the bond any longer.

“This is the largest bond I can remember in the history of Pike County,” Thomas continued. “On Friday morning, Rickey Stokes informed me that he would not be making the bond because they were a new company and did not have the sufficient funds to make the bond. I appreciate him saying that.”

Thomas said that he would not be taking questions and would not comment further on the matter or on Benton’s case.

“The subject remains in Pike County Jail on a $2.2 million bond,” Thomas said. “The case against me and the district attorney has been dismissed.”

Stokes went on to further speak about his agency’s attempt to bond out Benton and the measures they planned to take.

“As the bondsman, we were requiring an ankle monitor for Mr. Benton and had log in information for the Sheriff Department that they also would have access to,” Stokes said. “This was not a requirement of the court but was a requirement that we, as the bondsman, were requiring. We take our job seriously.

“We try to monitor those we have on bond and make sure we can locate them and they are in court as required. We will work diligently to locate them if they fail to appear in court. And should they violate the conditions set forth by the court, or violate the conditions that we as bondsman place on them, then we will not hesitate to return them to jail. In America, you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

“While law enforcement does a great job, and Pike County does a great job, there are three sides to every story. While the charges are serious, until the facts are heard in court by a jury of 12 people, in America you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in a fair trail. We have always been honest and above board with the courts and law enforcement. We work hand-in-hand and we have a full-time bail enforcement team who pursues those who fail to appear or violate the terms of bond. Being on bond does not mean you are free. It means you are still in custody, but the jailers of your chose, being the bondsman. Again, Russell Thomas is a man of integrity and honesty. And in our conversation this has never been an issue of Russell Thomas versus Rickey Stokes.”