Officers spit on, attacked in jails bursting with mentally ill


Editor’s note: An I-Team investigation found more than a dozen lawsuits against area jails claiming inmates were beaten, raped, medically neglected or killed in jail. In addition to possibly costing taxpayers dearly, advocates for inmates say these cases suggest a failure of the system to protect vulnerable people in public custody. Read our full investigation here.

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As his department faces criticism over mounting lawsuits alleging mistreatment of inmates at the county jail, Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer says he needs more resources to deal with drug addicts and the mentally ill.

Plummer says the eight lawsuits his department faces, some of them years old, is a small number considering the 800 inmates his facility holds at a time. The bigger problem, he says, is that many of them shouldn’t be there to begin with, but should be getting some sort of treatment.

Responding to calls from Montgomery County commissioners for a federal civil rights probe of the jail, Plummer invited commissioners into the jail.

RELATED: ‘Precious little oversight’ of Ohio’s county jails

“I would like to ask them to come in on a Friday or Saturday night and see what my employees put up with and who they have to deal with,” he said, “and watch them seeing the people suffering from mental illnesses banging their heads on the jail cells and we have to go in there and make sure they don’t hurt themselves or others.”

The I-Team obtained records illustrating how difficult and dangerous of a job corrections officers have.

On Feb. 7, a jail guard responded to screaming in a cell to find an inmate with a sheet around her neck tied to the bars while other inmates tried to stop her from killing herself.

“I reached through the bars and held onto inmate (redacted) leg so she could not put weight on the sheet which was tied around her neck. While hanging onto inmate (redacted) legs she began hitting me in the face with her fist,” says the report filled out by officer Sonya Rodeffer, who was bloodied by the incident. “She grabbed my glasses off my face and hit me with my glasses breaking them. Inmate (redacted) kicked me to try and make me lose my grip of her leg. I continued to hold on to her until additional units arrived and took over.”

The department provided a list of 13 other incidents of officers being attacked — punched, spit on, bitten and even pelted with body-fluid soaked toilet paper by a HIV-positive inmate.

Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, said too much is being asked of Ohio’s county jails.

“We, the sheriff’s offices and jails, are not equipped for the mentally ill or the drug addicted individuals. (The jail) is not a place to treat them, but we get saddled with these individuals because they have broken a law,” he said. “We can’t get them out of the jail. We have no place to put them.”

RELATED: 5 lawsuits allege prisoner neglect at Butler, Warren jails

Warren County Sheriff Larry Sims said 6,000 people get booked into his jail every year, and too many should be in drug treatment or a mental health facility, not the county jail.

“There’s so many people that may be in need of these extended mental health treatment options, and they’re not there. They’re not available,” he said. “There’s no space.”

I-TEAM SPECIAL PROJECT: JUSTICE AT THE JAILHOUSE



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