Ohio county faces 27 lawsuits over jail misconduct, $1.35 million paid so far
Thirteen inmates have died in Cuyahoga County jails since June 2018
By Adam Ferrise
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County has already paid more than $1 million in settlements for lawsuits filed after a string of inmate deaths that began in the summer of 2018 and revelations of widespread mistreatment of inmates.
Of the 27 lawsuits filed in the last two-and-half-years, four have settled for a total of $1.35 million. Twenty-three lawsuits are pending, with additional suits expected in the coming months.
Thirteen inmates have died in the county jails since June 2018. The deaths began during a tumultuous time at the jail fueled in part by the county bringing more inmates into the jail under Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish’s plan to regionalize all municipal jails under the county’s umbrella.
That plan ultimately aimed at increasing county revenue for the general fund by charging other communities a per-day rate for each inmate, all while the county cut basic costs for inmates. The deaths sparked a U.S. Marshals Service investigation that found “inhumane” conditions for inmates. The jail was also crowded and understaffed.
Families of five inmates have filed lawsuits against the county, including the family of Gregory Fox, who hanged himself in his cell in August 2018. The county settled with Fox’s family for $950,000.
Four other lawsuits involving the deaths of inmates are pending, including one filed earlier this month. The family of a man beaten to death by his cellmate in November hired attorneys, who said they could eventually pursue a lawsuit against the county.
The lawsuits filed against the county involve more than deaths. Twenty-one other lawsuits involving 43 inmates accuse the county of, among others, mistreating female inmates and inmates with mental illness, officers beating inmates for little or no reason, and providing poor or no medical care. Two lawsuits accuse the county of firing employees for whistleblowing.
Many cases about corrections officers using unnecessary force against inmates involve members of the jail’s Special Response Team, known as the “Men in Black” for the paramilitary gear they wear. Members of the team have been repeatedly singled out for beating and threatening inmates. The county fired some officers, and others were charged and convicted in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office criminal investigation into wrongdoing at the jail.
Cuyahoga County spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan declined to comment on the lawsuits.
Judges dismissed several suits inmates filed without attorney representation. Those cases are not included in the list below.
Here’s a look at the lawsuits and where they stand:
Gregory Fox, settled for $950,000
Fox hanged himself in his cell on Aug. 28, 2018. He had previously told jail staff that he had a mental illness, had suicidal thoughts and required medication. Jailers did not place Fox on suicide watch, nor was he placed in a part of the jail where inmates with mental illness get more immediate treatment. He was also in a crowded jail pod where one corrections officer was responsible for supervising about 100 inmates at the same time. The officer in charge of Fox’s pod failed to check on the inmates every 15 minutes, as required.
David Frunza, settled for $125,000
Cuyahoga County paid $40,000 of the settlement, and MetroHealth, the jail’s medical care provider, paid $85,000. Frunza was arrested on Oct. 11, 2018, and booked into jail. He complained several times of severe back pain, but jail medical staff refused to send him to the hospital until Nov. 22, when the pain rendered him unable to move. Doctors found he needed surgery the next day to alleviate an epidural abscess, according to the lawsuit.
Corrione Lawrence, settled for $140,000
Lawrence accused corrections officers Christopher Little and Barry Hickerson of attacking him without provocation, and officer Brandon Smith of threatening him for granting an interview with the U.S. Marshals Service during their investigation into the jail. Both officers at the time were members of the jail’s Special Response Team.
Tyron Hipps, settled for $140,000
Hipps accused officer Christopher Perdue of attacking him while he prayed. Hipps said the attack was in retaliation for giving an interview to the U.S. Marshals Service team, which was there investigating problems within the jail. Hipps, a Muslim, also accused the county of failing to give him a proper halal diet while in lockup.
Johnson, 51, was the first inmate during the string of deaths to take his own life. He died on July 3. He told jail staff that he was suicidal, but jailers never placed him on suicide watch. A jail officer did not make the required 15-minute checks on Johnson’s pod in the half-hour leading up to his death.
Arquillo died of a drug overdose in the jail and had heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and Valium in his system. He went to the medical unit for checkups several times before he slumped over in a corner of his heavily-populated dorm-style pod. Corrections officer Martin Devring walked up to him once during three hours but only kicked his mat and walked away. Another officer eventually relieved Devring and immediately called for help. Devring currently faces criminal charges of dereliction of duty. Then-warden Eric Ivey was also criminally charged in Arquillo’s death. Ivey pleaded guilty to ordering officers to turn off their body cameras during the investigation.
Parra died of a drug overdose in jail on June 23. He told officers that he swallowed drugs before his arrest, but he never received proper medical treatment, the lawsuit says. At one point, Parra was unable to walk, and an officer strapped him in a restraint chair and wheeled him to the medical unit. He wasn’t checked on until he fell unconscious nearly two hours later. Parra was taken to MetroHealth, where he died three days later.
Kiekisz hanged himself in his jail cell on Dec. 27, 2018, and died three days later. He suffered from bipolar disorder and depression. He told jail staff that he tried to commit suicide two days before his arrest and the medications he took to treat his mental illnesses. Jail staff never gave him a medical screening and placed him in the general population instead of on suicide watch.
His death came after the U.S. Marshals Service report on the jail and after medical officials pleaded with jail staff to change its booking procedure to ensure all inmates received medical screenings in part to better identify those at risk of suicide. Jail and county officials made no changes until 17 hours after Kiekisz was found unconscious in his cell.
19 inmates sue
Cleveland civil rights attorney Terry Gilbert on Dec. 20, 2018 filed a lawsuit on behalf of seven inmates, which later grew to 19. The lawsuit touches on a wide variety of issues at the jail in 2018, including unsanitary conditions for inmates, women who were not given sanitary pads, inmates forced to eat poor-quality food and who were locked in their cells for some 22 hours at a time.
A group of officers took Roarty-Nugent to a part of the jail with no surveillance cameras and beat him after he asked an officer for an extra carton of milk, according to a lawsuit. The officers repeatedly punched and kicked him, then only turned on their body cameras after pepper-spraying his face.
Corrections officer Charles Enoch attacked Muldrow, who has a mental illness, without provocation, according to prosecutors in Enoch’s criminal case. Enoch eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in the Nov. 12, 2018 incident. A judge sentenced Enoch to one year on probation.
Bottum, who also suffers from mental illness, got into an argument with jail staff while in the throes of a mental-health crisis and told jail staff of her illness. Jail staff, however, placed her in isolation for five days.
Debose has bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Two former jail officers, Nicholas Evans and Timothy Dugan, strapped him to a restraint chair on March 22, 2019, wheeled him into a small isolated room. Evans turned off his body camera and punched to Debose’ face several times. Dugan also punched Debose several times. Both officers later pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Evans was sentenced to nine months in prison and Dugan 10 days in the Geauga County Jail.
Members of the jail’s SRT beat Castleberry and left him bloodied in his jail cell on Feb. 5, 2018 after he asked for an extra bologna sandwich. Officer John Wilson eventually pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to three years on probation, 250 hours of community service and to pay a $500 fine.
Glenn Mayer Jr.
Mayer on Oct. 16, 2018 was suffering from involuntary muscle twitches and went to get his medication from a nurse in the jail when officer Darriell Hayes attacked him, according to the lawsuit. Hayes thought Mayer was grabbing the nurse, but Mayer was only using her arm to steady himself, according to county records and the lawsuit. Hayes grabbed Mayer by the neck and elbowed him in the side, according to the lawsuit.
An unnamed officer attacked Kaminski for no reason on July 29, 2018, according to the lawsuit. He suffered broken bones in his face, including a broken nose, the lawsuit says.
Decosta slipped on a puddle of water in the jail on May 30, 2018 and her head slammed against the ground, knocking her unconscious. She was treated at the jail with Tylenol, despite telling medical staff of diminished eyesight. She did not get proper medical treatment and was left legally blind in one eye, according to the lawsuit.
Glass was strapped to a restraint chair, slugged in the face by one officer and pepper-sprayed in the face at point-blank range by the officer’s supervisor. The officer, Robert Marsh, pleaded guilty in the case and received a 30-day prison sentence in the Summit County Jail. The supervisor, Idris-Farid Clark, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the attack, and for later threatening fellow officers to testify on his behalf.
Bean accused two officers of attacking him for no reason on May 6, 2018. Both officers were on the jail’s Special Response Team. Officer Brandon Smith is accused of punching Smith in the head, knocking him unconscious. Bean woke up and Officer Marvin Miller pepper-sprayed Bean in the face, including in his mouth, according to the lawsuit. Jail medical staff did not properly treat his injuries, the lawsuit says.
Tyree was attacked by several officers on July 8, 2018 after he refused to get off the phone. Members of the jail’s Special Response Team punched him and kicked him while he was on the ground, according to the suit. The officers strapped him to a restraint chair and continued hitting him in an elevator, the lawsuit says. The attack left Tyree with a broken draw and a ruptured eardrum.
McPherson, who suffered a gunshot wound to the shoulder before he ended up in the jail in March 2018, never received medical care for the injury, according to the lawsuit. When he complained to officers, a group of unnamed officers attacked him and pepper-sprayed his face, according to the lawsuit.
Tabatha Jackson and Phyllis Davis
The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of female inmates who were mistreated in the jail and forced to live in unsanitary conditions. Davis accuses the jail of failing to give her required prescriptions for anxiety and anti-depressants during her time in the jail. Jackson accused the jail of failing to provide medical care and taking away her wheelchair that she used after she was shot several times prior to being booked into the jail. She also accused an officer of slamming her into a desk and metal pole in the jail on Dec. 10, 2018.
Several members of the jail’s Special Response Team attacked Sampson Dec. 22, 2018 after he argued with an officer during booking, according to the lawsuit. The officers, who are not named in the complaint, slammed him to the ground and repeatedly punched, kicked and stomped him. One officer pepper-sprayed his face. A tooth was knocked out during the beating, the lawsuit says. Officers strapped him in a restraint chair and left him in an isolated cell for 12 hours without food, water or the ability to use the restroom, according to the lawsuit.
Grier on Aug. 27, 2018 was booked into the then-county-run Euclid Jail. Officers never asked him if he had any medical conditions, and Grier complained several times of head, neck and back pain, according to the lawsuit. An officer for no reason slammed him against the wall and choked him with his forearm while a second officer held Grier against the wall, according to the lawsuit. Grier struggled to breathe and started coughing up blood, according to the lawsuit. An ambulance took him to Euclid Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a neck injury.
Jailers placed Jackson, who suffers from anxiety and depression, in an isolated cell on Feb. 5, 2020. They denied him basic hygiene for three days, according to the complaint. On Feb. 8, he asked officers if he could shower. Two officers — Sgts. Adam Broeckel and Joseph Kelley — shot four pepper bombs into his cell. Four Special Response Team officers rushed inside, tackled Jackson to the ground and pepper-sprayed his face, the lawsuit says. The officers did not rinse off the pepper-spray for several hours, according to the lawsuit. Jackson suffered eye injuries, including the partial loss of vision in his left eye. His doctor prescribed several treatments, none of which had helped as of December 2020, according to the lawsuit.
Maggie Keenan, former county budget director
Keenan was fired in December 2019 after working as the county’s budget director for four years. Her lawsuit accused Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish of firing her because she repeatedly raised concerns about safety at the jail, workplace discrimination and because she alerted county officials of criminal misconduct by then-human resources chief Douglas Dykes, who eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of obstructing official business. Dykes illegally converted $13,500 in moving expenses for a former IT official into a $15,000 signing bonus in 2017.
Gary Brack, former jail nursing supervisor
The saga of Gary Brack is well known to anyone following issues at the jail. At a May 22, 2018 Cuyahoga County Council committee hearing, Brack accused then-jail director Ken Mills of blocking the hiring of nurses and predicted that things were so dire that he feared inmates would die. Less than a month later, the first inmate died.
The day after the hearing, Budish personally requested Brack’s firing during a meeting with MetroHealth CEO Akram Boutros. Boutros ultimately pulled Brack from his duties at the jail and offered him two lower-level jobs. Brack refused and was fired.
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