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Convicted Ohio jail director ‘needs to become a prisoner himself,’ prosecutors say in pre-sentencing filings

No corrections officer or sheriff’s department employee who worked inside the jail wrote a letter on Ken Mills’ behalf

Ken Mills

The county’s former director of corrections, Ken Mills, speaks as Cuyahoga County Sheriff Cliff Pinkney looks on at an April 2018 news conference.

Cory Shaffer/

By Cory Shaffer
Advance Ohio Media

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Prosecutors want former Cuyahoga County Jail director Ken Mills to serve jail time after he was convicted last month of misdemeanor counts accusing him of mismanaging the facility and lying to county council.

Mills showed a “callous indifference to the inhumane conditions in his jail,” Assistant Ohio Attorney General Matt Meyer wrote in court filings ahead of a sentencing hearing scheduled for Friday. His four-year tenure at the helm of the facility was marred by overcrowding, understaffing and a historic string of inmate deaths that is expected to cost the county millions to settle wrongful death lawsuits.

“Mills will never fully understand the impact of his crimes until he sees his own conduct through the eyes of the inmates who had to depend on the decisions he made,” Meyer wrote. “For that to happen, Mills needs to become a prisoner himself and learn what it really means to depend on the integrity and good judgment of the public servants who are charged with safely, humanely, and lawfully managing jails on our behalf.”

Retired Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia Cosgrove is set to sentence Mills at 11 a.m. at the Justice Center. He faces a maximum sentence of nine months in jail, but is also eligible for probation.

A jury convicted Mills on Sept. 10 of misdemeanor counts of dereliction of duty and falsification, following a three-week trial that saw dozens of current and former county officials called to the stand to testify. Jurors acquitted Mills of a felony charge of tampering with records.

Prosecutors argued that Mills pushed forward with the county’s plan to regionalize the jail and charge other cities to house their inmates to make money, over the warnings of corrections officers, supervisors and the union that represents jail officers that the facility was overcrowded and understaffed. The resulting population boom pushed the jail to its limits, and inmates did not receive proper health screenings, prosecutors said. Mills also lied during a Cuyahoga County Council committee meeting and said he never blocked the hiring of nurses in the jail, despite emails showing he thwarted a request in 2017 from then-Sheriff Clifford Pinkney for money to hire nurses.

Mills was forced to resign in late 2018 after six inmates died in less than five months, and just before the U.S. Marshals released a report that found widespread constitutional violations and inhumane conditions inside the jail.

“His acts of Dereliction of Duty not only harmed the individual inmates who suffered under the weight of the Defendant’s decisions, but also the corrections officers who were forced to work in unbearable conditions, as well as the families of both the corrections officers and the inmates who suffered alongside their loved ones,” Meyer wrote in his filing. “Finally, the community at large is forced to bear the consequences of Defendant’s conduct, including the reputational, institutional and financial damage defendant inflicted on Cuyahoga County through his acts of Dereliction of Duty and Falsification.”

Mills’ defense attorneys, Jim McDonald and Kevin Spellacy, filed their own brief asking Cosgrove to “consider a sentence other than jail.”

The attorneys cited Mills’ 27-year career in the U.S. Coast Guard, lack of any previous criminal charges and a positive work history until he took the jail’s reigns in 2015. They also attached letters from 12 of Mills’ friends, neighbors and former colleagues throughout his career, which they said would show that Mills is well-liked and “a compassionate human being with a very refreshing view on life.”

The letters, including one from Avon Fire Department Chief David Swope, painted Mills as principled and devoted to high morals and integrity. Neighbors said he threw weekly neighborhood cookouts on Friday nights.

Swope wrote that Mills is “a very honest person of good moral standing” and that he and Mills’ other neighbors “believe in him, despite the charges.”

“I trust Ken Mills to tell the truth and stand up for what is right,” Swope wrote. “I believe in my heart that whatever Ken did, it was not out of malice or contempt, but out of a position trying to do his best with the position he was given.”

Daniel McNea, a member of the City of Cleveland Community Relations Board, worked under Mills at the county’s Public Safety and Justice Services Division. His letter praised Mills as a supportive boss.

“He was the epitome of a caring leader,” McNea wrote.

Christina Bohuslawsky Brown, who is a client rights officer at the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, worked with Mills as the mental health coordinator in the jail from 2016 to 2019. She wrote that Mills was communicative and made sure staff had the tools they needed to their jobs, “the impact of which directly benefited the inmate population.”

Mills’ former assistant, Lauryn Harwell, called Mills a “visionary.”

“He had a plan to set the facility up for success and worked hard to implement professional standards within the facility,” Harwell wrote. “Despite the current claims against Ken, I know that he will continue to stand by his truth.”

No corrections officer or sheriff’s department employee who worked inside the jail wrote a letter on his behalf.

(c)2021 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland