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Former Hill correctional officer pleads not guilty to smuggling in cell phone for inmate

A former employee of Henry C. Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg pleaded not guilty to smuggling a cell phone into the facility for an inmate.

Melanie Cohill, 36, is a former correctional officer at Hill. She’s charged with two counts of bringing contraband into the prison, one count possession of contraband, and one count official misconduct. All are felonies.

Joel Starkey, an investigator for the Illinois Department of Corrections, testified at a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Knox County circuit court.

Starkey said officers found a charger and accessories for a Straight Talk wireless phone in an inmate’s cell in 2020.

Investigators believed the phone was hidden in a body cavity of the inmate.

The inmate was placed in segregation, in a “dry cell” with no running water.

Starkey testified that after several days a shattered cell phone with the serial number scraped off was found in the toilet.

A subpoena of the phone found the inmate had exchanged 30,000 text messages and calls with Cohill, whose cell phone number was registered with IDOC as an employee.

Investigators also found the activation card for the cell phone in Cohill’s residence.

During the prison investigation, the inmate never named Cohill.

Starkey testified the inmate only said his “best friend” was a female employee of the prison and he had the phone to communicate with her.

Cohill’s attorney, Paul Mangieri, argued there is only circumstantial evidence tying Cohill to the phone.

But Ninth Circuit Judge James Standard found probable cause for the case to move forward and Cohill pleaded not guilty on all charges.

She is also accused of improperly socializing with the inmate.

Starkey testified Cohill would let the inmate out of his cell and talk to him in the dayroom when it was not his turn to be in the dayroom.

Cohill resigned from her position not long after the inmate was placed in segregation, according to Starkey.

A pre-trial hearing is set for Sept. 5.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson is TSPR's regional reporter.