Lawsuit: Sheriff 'tolerated’ sex ring in which twin girls were abused by parents, deputy

Twins Girls Abused By Parents, Deputy; Sheriff ‘Tolerated’ Sex Ring

Twin girls who say they were victims in a Florida sex ring involving their mother, stepfather and at least one Escambia County sheriff’s deputy have filed federal lawsuits against the sheriff and his agency, claiming he allowed the behavior to take place.

The unidentified victims, now adults, filed separate claims on Oct. 18, according to the Pensacola News Journal. One woman's filing names the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff David Morgan, former Deputy Walter Michael Thomas Jr. and Deputy Mark Smith as defendants.

The other sister’s lawsuit names the Sheriff’s Office, Morgan and Smith.

The News Journal reported that Thomas, Smith and the girls' parents, Leah and Douglas Manning, were accused of conducting a sex ring in which the girls were sexually assaulted for a period of time in 2014, when they were minors. The plaintiffs allege that Morgan, as sheriff, should have reasonably known about the illegal activities in which his deputies were involved.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan

Credit: Escambia County Sheriff's Office

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Credit: Escambia County Sheriff's Office

“Defendant Morgan tolerated the sexual activities of his deputy sheriffs, staff and/or employees, including those of defendant Smith and Walter “Mike” Thomas, because of his friendship and personal relationship with (Leah Manning),” the lawsuit states, according to the newspaper.

Leah Manning worked as a nurse for the Sheriff’s Office at the time of the alleged abuse.

The lawsuits also state that Smith and other Escambia County deputies drove to the Manning home in uniform, and in their patrol cars, to engage in sex. Sometimes, they remained in uniform while assaulting the victims, the documents say.

Amber Southard, a spokeswoman for the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, said the agency does not comment on pending litigation, the News Journal reported.

Smith was acquitted of the charges against him, but Thomas was convicted in August 2016 and sentenced last October to 30 years in prison.

Former Escambia County Deputy Walter Thomas Jr., from left, Douglas Manning and Leah Manning are pictured in their mugshots from the Florida Department of Corrections. All three were convicted of sex crimes against Leah Manning's twin daughters.

Credit: Florida Department of Corrections

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Credit: Florida Department of Corrections

Thomas' charges stemmed from group sex with the Mannings and one of the girls, who was 17 at the time, the News Journal reported. Leah and Doug Manning testified against Thomas at his trial.

The former deputy, who maintained his innocence throughout his arrest and trial, will be a registered sex offender for 15 years following his release, the newspaper said.

The Mannings told authorities that they had an open marriage in which they engaged in sex with multiple teenage girls, including Leah Manning’s daughters. Leah Manning testified at Thomas’ trial that she had a relationship with Thomas that made her husband jealous, and that her husband had formed a relationship with one of the girls that made her jealous.

The solution, she said, was for all four to have sex together, the News Journal reported.

Like Thomas, Doug Manning was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but he will be a registered sex offender for life.

Despite one of her daughters pleading for leniency from the judge, Leah Manning received a 25-year prison sentence. She, too, will be a registered sex offender for the rest of her life.

Southard said that Smith, who remains a deputy, is currently in arbitration with the Sheriff’s Office regarding his firing as a result of the charges filed against him.