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North Dakota correctional officer charged with having a relationship with inmate was terminated for incident involving a second inmate

Savannah Marie Martin was fired from GFCCC for an incident of a sexual nature with an inmate. While it is unclear whether she was the instigator, she did not follow proper guidelines for reporting the incident, documents show. She is facing unrelated charges of having a sexual relationship with another inmate and will make her next court appearance on March 12.

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A video visitation station sits empty in a general population jail pod in 2015 at the Grand Forks County Jail in Grand Forks. Logan Werlinger / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — A former Grand Forks County correctional officer facing charges for having an inappropriate relationship with an inmate allegedly had an incident of a sexual nature with a second inmate, according to documents obtained by the Herald.

Criminal charges were brought against Savannah Marie Martin as the result of a search of Li’Von Bradford’s cell on Nov. 12, 2019, which turned up a THC cartridge, a cell phone and other contraband, allegedly provided to him by Martin. Bradford, with whom Martin allegedly had a sexual relationship from August to November 2019, has since been transferred out of GFCCC.

That search occurred 12 days after Martin was fired from GFCCC, after the incident involving another inmate.

According to a case report, jail officers reached out to Christopher Smith, a Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) investigator with the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 18. The officers told Smith that text messages and a phone call between an inmate and someone outside the jail had been discovered that seemed to refer to the inmate being inappropriately touched by a correctional officer.

The phone call was reviewed by investigators. In a conversation between the inmate and his girlfriend, the inmate said Martin grabbed his genitals. But when asked about the incident by investigators, Martin said the inmate put his genitals in her hand.

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In an Oct. 29 email, Grand Forks County Human Resources Generalist Roberta Bursheim told Grand Forks County State’s Attorney Haley Wamstad that regardless of which version of events is accurate, the county was recommending Martin’s termination from GFCCC.

"Even if the incident happened how (Martin) described it, the reporting procedures were not followed and were out of compliance for the PREA regulations," Bursheim wrote.

When questioned by investigators, the inmate said he had no memory of the incident, and that he felt safe and did not feel concerned for his future safety. He also said he didn’t recognize the texts in question, and that he shares his jail-issued texter with other inmates.

Smith told jail officers that without a victim, no criminal charges could be filed, according to investigation documents.

Smith also noted in his case report, dated Oct. 28, that this was the second investigation into an incident involving Martin during her time as a correctional officer. It is unclear what the first incident involved.

Martin pleaded not guilty to all criminal charges on Jan. 3. She is accused of felony delivery of THC to an inmate, felony delivery of a cell phone to an inmate, misdemeanor delivery of tobacco to an inmate, and felony sexual abuse of wards. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment for bringing the THC cartridge into the jail. The sexual abuse of wards and delivery of a cell phone charges each carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

She is scheduled to appear for a final dispositional conference on Thursday, March 12.

Hannah Shirley covers crime, courts and criminal justice for the Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2018 graduate of the University of Idaho and has lived and worked in Grand Forks since 2019. Prior to moving to North Dakota, she worked as a reporter for the Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass., a receptionist for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Moscow, Idaho, and a barista in a New York City coffee shop. She can be reached by phone at (701) 780-1267 or by email at hshirley@gfherald.com.
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