In recent months, the problems at the jail, the Cuyahoga County Corrections Center, have coalesced into a crisis that has resulted in lawsuits, an FBI investigation and charges against multiple corrections officers.
According to the announcement, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction will begin sharing inspection reports more widely with local prosecutors and administrative judges. DeWine said he also planned to add to the staff of the department’s Bureau of Adult Detention.
“We have increased the number of people who work in our inspection department,” the governor said Saturday, referring to the detention bureau. “That section just did not have enough people in it when I took office,” added DeWine, a Republican who took office in January. “That is a bigger issue than just Cuyahoga jail.”
But DeWine wants to put a “spotlight” on the Cuyahoga corrections center. In his announcement, posted Friday, DeWine said he had directed the detention bureau to conduct inspections of the Cuyahoga County jail at least every 30 days. Ohio jails are inspected for “essential” state standards annually.
“While we do not have any power or authority to run the jail and we do not desire to run the jail, by keeping the spotlight on the jail with these frequent inspections, we are hopeful it will lead to a permanent change in the culture,” DeWine said Saturday.
Cuyahoga County officials could not be reached for comment.
The jail faced renewed scrutiny last week after Cuyahoga County released a jarring surveillance video to The Plain Dealer that showed two corrections officers repeatedly punching an inmate who was strapped to a chair. The Plain Dealer, which covers northeast Ohio, identified the officers as Timothy Dugan and Cpl. Nicholas Evans, and the inmate as Terrance Debose.
In the video, Debose is wheeled into a room with his arms strapped to his chair, a blanket over his lap and a covering over his mouth. Debose can be seen speaking to Evans.
Evans then leans over and begins swinging multiple times at Debose’s face. Dugan also walks over and punches Debose in the face.
The two men face charges including felonious assault, unlawful restraint and interfering with civil rights, according to the Ohio attorney general’s office. Court records show that both officers pleaded not guilty in April.
Brian Rothenberg, a spokesman for the United Auto Workers Region 2B, a labor union that represents corporals working in the jail, declined to comment on “pending legal matters.”
Adam Chaloupka, a lawyer for Dugan, said he expected to argue the case in court in July.
“The video is what it is: It is evidence,” Chaloupka, of the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said Saturday. “We can’t run from the video; it doesn’t mean there’s enough evidence,” he said, adding that the prosecution has to prove that the assault was a felonious assault, as opposed to a simple assault.
“They need to prove serious physical harm,” Chaloupka said, adding that Dugan has had a clean disciplinary record in the 19 years he has worked at the jail.
The problems in the jail have been long-standing, said David Malik, a civil rights lawyer for a former inmate of the jail who is suing Cuyahoga County.
“There have been effective policies in place, and prisoners and inmates have more or less been fairly well protected from harm,” Malik said. “The problem begins to change when new political administrations come in and policies that were enforced are no longer enforced,” he said.
DeWine said he considered the correctional officers’ behavior “unacceptable.”
“This goes back to training and discipline, and there should be no tolerance for that type of behavior,” DeWine said.
The developments continue months of troubling news about the Cuyahoga County jail. In October, a Cleveland Municipal Court judge said he would release people charged with low-level crimes instead of sending them to the jail to be held on bail, citing safety concerns.
“Six deaths means the jail is unsafe,” Judge Michael Nelson said at the time. “You shouldn’t die before we see you in court.”
A review of Cuyahoga County jail facilities conducted for the U.S. Marshals Service that was published in November raised questions about the deaths of several inmates and found that inmates were not getting enough food and were held in cells far exceeding capacity (a cell designed for two people, for example, held 12). Some federal detainees are held in the jail, the report said.
An inspection by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction released in February said the jail had failed to comply with 84 state standards. Inmates had been denied hygiene products, clean linens and visitation hours, according to the state’s report.
The state inspected the jail again this month and found it was still not compliant with 66 standards. A statement from DeWine’s office released Thursday said that “additional legal action may be taken should this jail fail to demonstrate significant improvements.”
“My purpose is to make sure that we stay right on this and that we keep the pressure on Cuyahoga County and keep the jail in better shape,” DeWine said.
David Dustin, a supervisory special agent in the FBI’s Cleveland office, confirmed Friday that the FBI was investigating possible civil rights violations at the jail, but he declined to provide further details, citing the continuing investigation.