Prison records show Cleotha Henderson committed 20 sex crimes behind bars, ‘couldn’t help’ exposing himself

Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 6:17 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - When Cleotha Henderson exposed himself for the fourth time to a corrections officer, a supervisor asked why he was doing what he was doing. Henderson replied that he “couldn’t help” it, according to disciplinary records obtained by the Action News 5 Investigators.

During Henderson’s 20-year prison sentence, for which he served after kidnapping an attorney at gunpoint, he racked up 53 infractions, including 19 indecent exposure violations.

He exposed himself to corrections officers in the chow hall, in the recreation yard, and while standing in the door of his cell. Sometimes, he would call a guard’s name and expose himself.

His other offenses include sexual misconduct, threatening an employee, strong-armed robbery, drug possession and possession of a deadly weapon.

Each violation was reviewed by the prison’s disciplinary boards, which found Henderson guilty in every instance.

Records show Henderson was sentenced to a total of 325 days in isolation, 91 months of restricted privileges, and $117 in fines.

The records also show Henderson was terminated from his prison jobs, given verbal and written reprimands, and, most seriously, lost 180 days of his sentence credits.

Nine months before he was reintegrated into society, Henderson exposed himself to his case manager in her office. He was sentenced to five days in isolation and a $4 fine.

Still, Henderson was released early, after having served 20 years of his 24-year sentence.

“Everything we do has an impact on people’s lives. Our inactions have an even deeper impact on people’s lives,” said Tennessee State Representative Antonio Parkinson.

Parkinson said inaction at the state and local levels is to blame for where Henderson stands today. As a member of a newly-formed legislative committee, Parkinson wants an in-depth review of the state’s corrections rehabilitation strategy.

“They’re coming into state custody and we’re warehousing them and we’re punishing them, I guess, but they’re going to come out at some point,” he said. “What’s happening in between that time when they’re behind that wall?”

During the committee’s Wednesday night meeting, Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) Commissioner Lisa Helton told lawmakers that the department’s disciplinary process works most of the time, but that she would review how it’s applied to serial offenders behind bars.

“I would never say that we shouldn’t take an opportunity to relook at something and see what flexibility is,” she said.

The responsibility doesn’t lie with TDOC alone.

Henderson was in and out of juvenile detention 16 times before he kidnapped attorney Kemper Durand at gunpoint in 2000. Eleven months after serving time for that crime, a woman accused him of rape.

Her newly-filed lawsuit blames the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s rape kit backlog and the Memphis Police Department’s negligence for why Henderson wasn’t arrested and now stands accused of kidnapping and murdering Eliza Fletcher.

Plus, while a district attorney can charge inmates for infractions they commit behind bars, prosecutors in the three jurisdictions where Henderson served time - Lauderdale County, Hardeman County and Trousdale County - never did.

“At the end of the day, the buck stops with the state of Tennessee,” said Parkinson. “And the state of Tennessee is where accountability needs to be held. Once they’re in state custody, that’s where the bulk of the actions should’ve taken place. Plain and simple.”

Parkinson also wants to hold TDOC accountable for its recidivism rate. More than 40% of its released inmates go back to prison, according to the state’s most recent numbers available.

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