Ohio prisoner transfer raises questions

FOP president asks why lone escort transported man in uncaged vehicle


Joey Nowak
The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The recent escape of a prisoner being transported from a Noble County court appearance to the Franklin County jail has some police officials concerned about the consequences of departments cutting corners.

After the prisoner assaulted his escort and stole his gun, several safety concerns arose, said Jim Gilbert, president of Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9.

"That vehicle should have been properly equipped with two deputies, and my only thinking is that only because of the cost involved, it wasn't," Gilbert said. "I'm concerned because it's my members that are now asked to go out and apprehend this violent individual in the streets of Columbus."

James Gillman, 27, was being driven from the Noble County Common Pleas Court back to jail. Gillman, who pleaded guilty to assault on Wednesday and already had been convicted of armed robbery, freed himself from the handcuffs and grabbed Noble County Corrections Officer Ken Jackson by the neck and arm, taking his gun.

Not only did the vehicle not have a barrier between the driver and passenger, but Jackson, 68, was working alone and is not a paid deputy of the department, Gilbert said. He was overpowered by the larger -- 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds -- Gillman.

"I don't know what his background, his experience or what his training is," Gilbert said of Jackson.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction transports inmates with two officers per inmate in a vehicle that separates the officers from inmates, a department spokeswoman said.

Gillman forced Jackson to take him to a relative's home on the South Side, where he surrendered two hours later to the Columbus SWAT team.

"Luckily, (Gillman) was more concerned about getting away than killing anybody," Gilbert said. "It's my understanding that this is an ongoing practice in that county, and what's to stop a prisoner in a week or so who will kill the deputy?"

A dispatcher in the Noble County sheriff's office said that only Sheriff Landon Smith could field questions and he was not available for comment yesterday. There was no answer at a home phone listing for Jackson.

Each county has its own methods for transporting and holding prisoners, said Bob Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association.

"In the small, rural counties such as Noble County, certainly it is (commonplace to transport a prisoner with one guard) because they don't have this kind of work often," Cornwell said. "They're a very small, poor, rural county in Ohio and maybe they can't afford the cages."

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