Inmate accused of beating cellmate to death placed in gen pop despite history

Edmond Hightower had a history of assaulting inmates in the jail over the years and was flagged in 2013 to be placed in an isolated cell to protect other inmates


By Adam Ferrise
Cleveland.com

CLEVELAND — The Cuyahoga County Jail inmate accused of beating to death a fellow inmate in their shared cell is diagnosed with an unspecified mental illness but was not placed in the area of the jail where inmates with mental illnesses are typically housed, according to court records and three sources with knowledge of the incident.

Court records from previous arrests document Edmond Hightower’s history of mental illness. A judge found his condition was so pervasive that they could not impose a sentence for one of his crimes.

Cleveland police are investigating the fatal beating of an inmate in the Cuyahoga County Jail.
Cleveland police are investigating the fatal beating of an inmate in the Cuyahoga County Jail. (Photo/Cory Shaffer of Cleveland.com via TNS)

Hightower, 31, also had a history of assaulting other inmates in the jail over the years and was flagged in 2013 to be placed in an isolated cell to protect other inmates, according to the sources.

Inmates with a documented history of mental illness or behavioral issues are often placed in cells by themselves. The jail also has designated areas for inmates with mental illness so that healthcare officials can give them more specific attention and treatment.

However, jail staff placed Hightower in the general population, according to the sources and a police incident report.

Cuyahoga County spokesman Dale Armbruster released no information about the case on Tuesday and did not respond to emailed questions regarding the incident and about Hightower’s placement in the jail.

“At the direction of our legal counsel, no further information is available at this time because the circumstances of Mr. Trawick’s death are still under investigation,” Armbruster said in a statement.

Hightower faces additional charges of aggravated murder following the Monday evening beating of cellmate Shone Trawick. Investigators have not said what sparked the attack. It’s the first homicide inside the Cuyahoga County Jail in at least 25 years, according to medical examiner records and officials.

Hightower, who is 6-feet 7-inches tall and about 230 lbs., attacked Trawick, who was 5-feet 8-inches tall and weighed about 140 lbs., about 6 p.m. Monday.

Other inmates yelled to a jail officer for help, and the officer requested assistance from a supervisor, according to Cleveland police, who are investigating the death. Jail officers found the cell covered in blood, according to the sources.

The supervisor called for medical attention. An ambulance took Trawick, 48, to MetroHealth, where he was pronounced dead about 6:50 p.m., according to police.

Jail has history of mistreating mentally ill

Trawick’s death is the third at the jail this year. All three inmates — including Michael Wormick, 52, and Lea Daye, 28 — were homeless when they were arrested and booked into the jail.

Wormick suffered from mental illness, as did Hightower and Trawick.

The jail came under considerable scrutiny in recent years for failing to provide adequate supervision and treatment of inmates who are drug addicted or diagnosed with mental illnesses. A 2018 U.S. Marshals Service report found mentally ill inmates didn’t get proper treatment, and some received no treatment at all. MetroHealth has since taken overall medical and mental health treatment at the jail.

A years-long effort at getting a diversion center to help those with mental illness instead of jailing them has plodded along but has not yet reached the full planning stage. The goal is to create a center that diverts people with mental illness or addiction to the center, where doctors, nurses, counselors and psychiatrists would provide around the clock care instead of taking them directly to jail.

A study by consultants hired by the county to study the program reviewed inmates booked into the jail between May and November 2019 and found one-third had severe mental illness or substance abuse issues and that those inmates on average stayed in the jail 77 percent longer than other inmates.

Hightower spent 3 years in state-run psychiatric facility

Hightower in 2016 was found not guilty by reason of insanity on a charge of possessing a weapon with a prior felony conviction. The previous felony conviction stemmed from a 2013 case in which he threatened and kicked a Cleveland Heights police officer in the face.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Cassandra Collier-Wiliams in the 2016 case found that Hightower suffered from severe mental illness and dismissed the criminal charge. This rare occurrence happens only when a court deems a criminal defendant severely mentally incapacitated.

The judge ordered that Hightower undergo treatment for his illness at Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare, a state-run psychiatric facility. According to court records, Hightower remained there for three years until he was released in December 2019, the maximum amount of time allowed under the law for that criminal charge.

Three days after his release from Northcoast, Hightower attacked his mother’s live-in boyfriend at her apartment in East Cleveland, according to police. The 53-year-old man told police he was fixing the television when Hightower walked up to him and, for no reason, picked him up over his head and slammed him to the ground.

The 53-year-old man suffered a broken wrist and arm, according to police. East Cleveland police arrested Hightower on Oct. 26 on the outstanding warrant for felonious assault in that attack.

Hightower appeared erratic at the police department and refused to comply with East Cleveland police officers as they tried to take his fingerprints and interview him, according to police reports. He grabbed an officer’s arm and tried to fight with the officers, according to police reports.

Because of Hightower’s size and strength, it took three East Cleveland police officers to wrestle him to the ground, according to police reports. No one was injured.

Hightower has since remained jailed on a $10,000 bond set for the felonious assault case against his mother’s boyfriend.

Trawick also had mental illness

Trawick also had a mental illness, according to court records. On Oct. 22, one of his three criminal cases was transferred to the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas' Court Mental Health Docket.

Trawick died while serving a six-month sentence for two cases — one where police found him wandering in someone’s backyard naked and intoxicated. Another in which he punched a man searching for his lost cellphone outside a group home in Garfield Heights.

Trawick on Oct. 20 pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of assault and disorderly conduct in Garfield Heights Municipal Court.

He also faced felony charges of grand theft, possessing a weapon with a felony record and carrying a concealed weapon stemming from a Feb. 18 incident in Cleveland. He pleaded not guilty in that case and posted a $5,000 personal bond.

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(c)2020 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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