Ohio county settles jail lawsuit for $170,000 with former inmate

The lawsuit was one of several brought against the county over problems at the jail


By John Caniglia
cleveland.com
        
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County has agreed to pay $170,000 to a former jail inmate who accused guards of pummeling him in an unprovoked attack in July 2018.

Cortez Tyree, 31, of Cleveland sued the county and officers in U.S. District Court a year after the incident. Cuyahoga County Council approved the settlement Tuesday.

Attorneys for Tyree said corrections officers and members of the jail’s Special Response Team attacked him after he refused to get off the phone during a call with his wife.

Cortez Tyree was being held at the Cuyahoga County Jail in downtown Cleveland when he was assaulted for failure to get off the phone.
Cortez Tyree was being held at the Cuyahoga County Jail in downtown Cleveland when he was assaulted for failure to get off the phone. (Cory Shaffer/cleveland.com)

“Cortez’s case is an example of the gratuitous violence that we’re still seeing in the county jail,” said Sarah Gelsomino, one of Tyree’s attorneys. “He was beaten, Maced and placed in a restraining chair. It’s a pattern. We see it over and over. There was no reason any corrections officer had to use violence to restrain him.

“He wasn’t being violent. He was just on the phone. There wasn’t an attempt to say, ‘Hey, let’s move this along.’ The first response is violence.”

Mary Louise Madigan, a spokeswoman for Cuyahoga County, said officials “settled the case in the best interest of the county.”

The lawsuit was one of several brought against the county over problems at the jail. Eight people died there in 2018, and the U.S. Marshals Service said it found “inhumane” conditions in the jail during an inspection.

On July 7, 2018, Tyree was in jail on escape and vandalism charges. He spoke that morning to his wife on a phone in a housing pod. An officer told Tyree to finish the call, as medication had to be passed out to inmates.

The lawsuit says Tyree refused, and he continued talking. The officer called the Special Response Team, which entered the housing unit and approached Tyree, who was sitting on the floor. The lawsuit said one of the officers jumped on Tyree, while others quickly joined in the attack.

The lawsuit said an officer used a chemical spray, and Tyree later was placed in a restraining chair. The guards moved him into an elevator and began beating him again when the doors closed, according to the court filing.

Gelsomino said Tyree suffered ear damage from the attack.

Days after the incident, Tyree pleaded guilty to escape, and he was later sentenced to nine months in prison. Months after the attack, one of the guards told Tyree, “If you tell anyone, something else is going to happen,” according to the lawsuit.

The document claimed the officers violated Tyree’s constitutional rights. It said the officers “had good reason to believe that their misconduct would not be revealed or reported by fellow officers or their supervisors and that they were immune from disciplinary action, thereby protecting them from the consequences of their unconstitutional conduct.”

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