Many problems at jail where inmates escaped

By Mark Gillispie - Associated Press

CLEVELAND (AP) — The overcrowded Ohio county jail from which four inmates escaped last weekend has been repeatedly cited by state inspectors for its lack of a security perimeter, broken security cameras and a lack of records showing whether officers conducted daily inmate counts, The Associated Press has learned.

The male inmates who escaped overpowered two female corrections officers at the Gallia County Jail near the southern tip of Ohio using a handmade shank early Sunday. All four were captured Monday in North Carolina and await extradition to Ohio.

There have been three other escapes from either the jail or an inmate transport vehicle in the last 13 months. Three people incarcerated at the jail have died since December 2018.

A report by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction after an inspection in December obtained by the AP said the jail was at double its capacity of 21 inmates and overall had failed to comply with 77 state standards. For instance, security perimeter doors weren’t secured during the inspection, the report said. The report also cited the jail for lacking a two-way radio system and failing to show whether corrections officers conducted contraband searches.

Previous annual inspections cited many of the same problems. The jail failed to meet 63 standards during an inspection in November 2017 and 86 standards during an inspection the previous November.

Sheriff Matt Champlin has said the shortcomings at the 70-year-old jail located in the basement of the county courthouse have existed for years.

The inspections have raised questions about all aspects of the jail’s operation, including sanitation, broken lavatories and light fixtures and lukewarm showers.

“The jail was in an overall unhygienic condition and the physical plant was in a state of disrepair,” state inspector Scott Filicky wrote in his report dated Jan. 29 of this year.

The report also noted lack of round-the-clock medical care and the unavailability of treatment for mental health issues and drug and alcohol addiction.

The Gallipolis Daily Tribune has reported that Gallia County commissioners are exploring building a new jail.

Champlin, the sheriff, didn’t respond to an interview request Wednesday or Thursday but discussed problems during a news conference Sunday.

He said that when he took office in January 2017, he realized the jail was “insufficient to meet the needs and the number of criminals and the type of criminals we’re housing.”

“It’s a problem that has existed for at least the last 15 to 20 years,” he said.

Champlin said the county sends prisoners to other jails, some four hours away from the county seat of Gallipolis, but must bring them back to Gallia County for court hearings. Staffing has been a challenge because the county has struggled to find people willing to work for $11 to $15 an hour as corrections officers. Two female corrections officers were supervising male inmates the night of the escape because two male officers had called in sick.

One of the inmates who escaped Sunday had done so before. In early September, he fled from a transport van with another inmate while being brought from another jail. They were found the next day hiding inside the crawl space of a home.

Two women escaped from the jail in late August 2018. A male inmate overpowered guards and escaped weeks earlier.

Champlin said the jail is not built to provide the services the state requires because of its physical structure.

Sherry Russell, the mother of David “Tommy” Gibson, an inmate who killed himself, challenged Champlin at Sunday’s news conference.

“My goal is to change the policies that these people are dying over,” Russell told Champlin. “My son will not have died in vain.”

In an interview Wednesday, Russell said she and Gibson’s wife pressed domestic violence charges against him after he had made threats. Russell said she hoped time in jail would allow her son to detox from his methamphetamine addiction and begin to think clearly again.

Russell said her 27-year-old son called her from the jail days before he died saying he was sick and wanted to hurt himself. Russell said she heard from other inmates that he rapidly deteriorated overnight and yelled about harming himself. Russell said that when she asked Champlin what the surveillance camera focused on her son’s cell showed, he told her it had been damaged several weeks prior.

“The system failed him,” Russell said. “How can this jail stay open if they can’t guarantee (inmates’) safety?”

Russell said she has spoken with agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which is investigating her son’s death.

A week after Gibson’s death, a 35-year-old man died of an overdose from drugs that Champlin said were smuggled into the jail. A 36-year-old man was found dead in a cell in December 2018. The Gallia County coroner said the man died from natural causes.

By Mark Gillispie

Associated Press