Ohio jail officer accused of sexually assaulting inmates supervised mentally-ill prisoners

Andre Bacsa made headlines earlier this week for assaulting 3 inmates in 17 days; at least 1 has a mental illness


By Adam Ferrise
cleveland.com
        
CLEVELAND, Ohio— A Cuyahoga County Jail officer accused of sexually assaulting three inmates in 17 days worked in the area of the jail where inmates with mental illnesses are housed, according to his personnel file.

At least one inmate who accused Bacsa of sexual assault has a mental illness, according to court records.

Bacsa is charged with three counts of rape, three counts of sexual battery and two counts of gross sexual imposition.

The Cuyahoga County jail at the Justice Center, photographed on Wednesday, June 26, 2012.
The Cuyahoga County jail at the Justice Center, photographed on Wednesday, June 26, 2012. (Photo/Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer/The Plain Dealer)

His arrest is the latest in a long series of accusations of misconduct by officers against inmates with mental illness, including beatings and failing to take steps to protect inmates from suicide.

Spokespeople for Cuyahoga County did not respond to a request for comment and additional information on the case.

Bacsa was placed on unpaid leave Tuesday following his arrest. The county hired him as a corrections officer in 2019, and jail administration assigned him to the mental-health pod, where inmates with acute mental illnesses reside, according to a partial release of his personnel file.

The designated area ideally gives inmates better access to mental healthcare.

Bacsa is jailed on a $100,000 bond and has not yet made his first court appearance. The county transferred him from the Cuyahoga County Jail to the Geauga County Jail, which is standard when corrections officers are arrested and held on bond.

Bacsa, according to one performance review, received mostly average marks, with below-average marks for poor teamwork and attendance. He worked at the former Katz Club Diner in Cleveland Heights, Phoenix coffee shop in South Euclid and Poor Junior’s pizzeria in Lakewood before becoming on a corrections officer, according to his personnel file.

Court records list the names of only one of the three inmates who accused Bacsa of sexual assault. As of Thursday, Cuyahoga County has not released a slew of documents regarding the incident.

A judge ordered the 19-year-old inmate to undergo emergency psychiatric treatment three days after he arrived at the jail, according to court records. His case was on the court’s mental-health docket, reserved for people with serious mental illnesses after a court psychiatrist conducted an evaluation.

The judge ordered him to Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare, the state-run mental health facility, and for doctors to evaluate whether he was competent to stand trial. Court records do not say if the inmate completed his evaluation before the man pleaded guilty to the charges. He remains in the Cuyahoga County Jail awaiting sentencing.

Bacsa walked into the man’s cell on June 17 and forcibly performed oral sex on him, according to court records. Court records do not list an attorney for Bacsa, and the jail officer’s union said it’s trying to determine whether or not they will have an attorney represent him in the case.

The 19-year-old inmate’s defense attorney, Deanna Robertson, declined to comment on her client’s behalf.

It’s unknown if the other two inmates in the case had mental illnesses.

Cuyahoga County took steps in recent years to better serve those with mental illness, including in May when the county opened a diversion center aimed at getting people with mental illness treatment instead of taking them to jail.

The change came after a string of incidents involving deaths and beatings of inmates with mental illnesses, including two incidents in November 2020.

Among the incidents involving inmates with mental illness include an officer who shut off his body camera before pummeling an inmate with a mental illness strapped to a restraint chair in 2018; an officer who attacked an inmate with a mental illness in 2018 and a woman with mental illness strapped to a restraint chair after an argument with officers.

At least half of the 12 inmates who died in the jail since 2018 showed signs of mental illness. According to county records and lawsuits, Brendan Kiekisz and Nicholas Colbert told jail staff they previously tried to commit suicide, and Larry Johnson and Gregory Fox told staff they were suicidal. Fox’s family settled a lawsuit with the county for $950,000.

An inmate in November, Shone Trawick, ended up beaten to death by a cellmate, Edmond Hightower, according to Cleveland police and prosecutors. Trawick suffered from depression, and Hightower had a long history of violence and mental illness, including a judge who ruled his illness so acute he wasn’t fit to stand trial. Both were in the general population of the jail when the beating happened.

The same month as Trawick’s death, jail officials released Jose Irizarry, who had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, about 11 p.m. with no coat, no cellphone and no way to contact family members who waited for a call to pick him up. Irizarry had complained about the jail conditions in letters to his family and told them he received medication he didn’t recognize.

Irizarry ended up wandering to Whiskey Island, where he fell in Lake Erie. Authorities never recovered his body.

A study of the jail conducted between 2018 and 2020 by the Disability Rights Ohio advocacy group found Cuyahoga County inmates often have poor medical and mental healthcare. The group acknowledged the county made some improvements.

The study found flaws in the way inmates can ask for help, that jail employees minimized medical and mental health emergencies and that staff shortage and inadequate training contributed to the problems.

Since the report was issued, jail staff has dwindled to below 640 officers, below the budgeted amount of 705, while the population has increased to above 1,630 as of Monday, the highest number of inmates since the coronavirus pandemic forced officials to shed some 900 non-violent inmates from the jail.

The study found about 60 percent of the jail’s inmates show at least some symptoms of mental illness, that 66 percent of inmates the group interviewed reported a lack of access to mental health care and that 57 percent of inmates interviewed reported issues with medication.

Attorneys for the county and MetroHealth responded to the study by saying that DRO relied on outdated and unsupported information and that the county had made strides in ensuring inmates receive proper healthcare.

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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