A U.S. Marshals probe of the Cuyahoga County jail uncovered conditions so severe that they put the safety of staff and inmates at risk, according to a report released Wednesday morning.
Among the Marshals’ findings were that the jail used food as a form of punishment, that meals failed to meet nutritional standards, that inmates received inadequate medical care and that defendants awaiting court were placed in cells without working toilets or running water.
“The performance of the function is so defective or deficient, it actually presents a risk to the safety of staff and detainees; the risk include life and safety concerns as well as inhumane conditions of confinement, which violate safe, secure, humane conditions and/or violate detainee/inmate Constitutional Rights,” the report reads.
U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Ohio Peter J. Elliott said the county now has 30 days to tell the federal government how it plans to fix the problems at the jail.
“My personal opinion is that the problems are very, very long-standing,” Elliott said in an interview Wednesday. “They’ve been going on for decades.”
Elliott said the marshals are moving federal prisoners from the main jail in downtown Cleveland to the county-run facility in Euclid. He said the service could permanently remove inmates from the county system if problems are not fixed. The marshals spend about $1.5 million each year housing inmates with the county, Elliott said.
Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish requested he review after six inmates died in the jail in a matter of months.
The report found the jail failed “to perform post mortem mortality reviews,” and provided “insufficient and unclear answers regarding six recent inmate deaths.”
In a statement released by the county, Budish outlined several steps he said his administration would take in response to the report.
He said the jail had stopped using food as a punishment and that MetroHealth had agreed to take on medical care at the jail. He also said he had asked an internal auditor to examine policies and procedures at the jail.
“I want to measure our jail against the highest standards and to make every effort to bring our jail up to meet these high safety standards,” Budish said. “The Marshals’ report indicates the county jail is NOT meeting those high standards today. In fact, far from it. This must change, and it will change.”
Marshals interviewed more than 100 inmates, according to the report, finding “strong and consistent allegation of brutality.”
The marshals wrote that a special unit of guards called the Security Response Team was known to inmates as the “men in black,” because of their “black para-military uniforms.”
According to the report, SRT members referred to inmates as “snitches” while escorting them to interviews with the marshals.
Marshals requested to remove “up to 10” inmates from the jail, fearing that guards would retaliate against them, according to the report.
The marshals found the jail to be so over capacity that inmates slept regularly on mattresses on the floor, including two pregnant inmates.
Cuyahoga County Councilman Michael Gallagher, a Republican who chairs the public safety and justice committee, said Wednesday that he plans to hold a hearing on the report after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It’s just a bad situation, top to bottom. And it has to be corrected,” Gallagher said, adding, “I had never heard of having pregnant women sleeping on the floor. That’s just absolutely terrible.”
Gallagher said former jails director Ken Mills was “front and center” in the problems at the facilities. Mills resigned earlier this month. The county named Chief Deputy George Taylor as interim director.
“For whatever reason, Mr. Mills seemed to have carte blanche for whatever he wanted to do at the jail,” Gallagher said. “He had conflicts with judges, the sheriff’s department, county council.”
The report also criticized sanitation in the facility, saying that flying bugs were found in the showers of a housing pod. Mice were also seen in a dry food storage area.
Sheet pans in the food service department were “heavily encrusted with grease deposits,” according to the report, and the walls were covered in food debris and dirt.
The jail fed baloney sandwiches to inmates awaiting court hearings, but did not individually wrap them, the report said. The sandwiches were “not properly refrigerated or stored and were located in an unused office area which reeked of dead vermin.”
Read the full report below: