PITTSFIELD — A former mental health clinician at the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction is facing charges for allegedly having a sexual relationship with an inmate while she was employed there.
Valerie L. Soules, 62, of Pittsfield, who has served for about 12 years in the department, was fired last fall as the result of an investigation by the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office, which runs the jail.
The incidents took place between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 17, 2015, according to a statement from the Berkshire District Attorney's Office.
Sheriff Thomas N. Bowler said the investigation began in mid-September after another staff member recognized warning signs that professional boundaries between Soules and the inmate may have been crossed.
Soules was placed on administrative leave during the investigation, Bowler told The Eagle. She was fired on Sept. 25.
Situations like this can compromise security efforts in the jail, requiring a "swift and prompt reaction," he said.
"Every move and decision we make depends on security," Bowler said. "Security is priority No. 1."
Bowler declined to identify the inmate with whom she allegedly was involved.
He also said he could not comment whether the two had any prior relationship or where the alleged conduct took place.
Bowler said this is the first such case he has seen in his more than five years as sheriff.
He commended, but did not identify, the staff member who reported the suspected relationship.
Soules, who is represented by Pittsfield attorney Leonard Cohen, pleaded not guilty in Berkshire Superior Court on Wednesday to one count of sexual relations with inmates.
She was released on her own recognizance by Judge John Agostini, who ordered her return to court July 21.
If convicted, Soules faces up to five years in state prison, a fine of $10,000 or both.
Bowler said he could not comment on how her dismissal or the criminal case could affect any state retirement benefits Soules may have earned.
The investigation was conducted by state police detectives assigned to the District Attorney's Office.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.