Montgomery County Jail deaths: Community deserves state-led investigation, coalition says

In 2023, there were 7 inmate deaths from January to July, plus an inmate died in December after transfer to hospital.

The Montgomery County Jail Coalition submitted a 300-signature petition to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction this week calling for a comprehensive, state-led review of deaths at the county’s pre-trial jail facility last year.

Members of the jail watchdog group say this is a necessary step for the community to heal and prevent future loss at Montgomery County Jail.

“We deserve leaders who are willing to lead and provide direction in the wake of injustice,” said Robert Beebe, a jail coalition member. “An investigation into these deaths is the first step in identifying the ways we can ensure future detainees will be given proper care. And hopefully we can open the larger dialogue about who should be taken to jail in the first place.”

In 2023, seven inmate deaths were reported from January through July, and in December a man died after he was transferred from the jail to the hospital.

Those who died included Steven D. Blackshear, 45; Aaron Dixon, 52; Amber Goonan, 41; Isaiah Trammell, 19; Amanda Campbell, 44; Gerald Ford, 47; Terry Clemmons, 47; and Douglas Sutton, 56.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction reviews every death at a jail facility in the state, according to spokeswoman JoEllen Smith. A state jail inspector is tasked with visiting a facility and reviewing reports drafted by the jail staff.

The Montgomery County Jail Coalition said a thorough, transparent review is needed and must center around an on-site investigation of the facility, as well as interviews with detainees, staff and leadership, according to their petition.

On Tuesday, during the regular meeting of the Montgomery County Commission, several members of the Montgomery County Jail Coalition read portions of the obituaries of people who died in detainment last year at the facility, also weaving in details from the associated incident report.

For Ben Fisher, the story was a little more personal.

Fisher was only in custody at Montgomery County Jail for a few days when Clemmons died in July 2023. He was across the way from Clemmons when the man died after a corrections officer found him unresponsive. An incident report regarding Clemmons’ death states he died of a “medical emergency” — but everyone dies of a medical emergency, Fisher said.

“I’m 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and have three black belts. But when his family contacted me and asked me how their brother died, I cried like a baby, and I can’t get rid of that,” Fisher told the commission. “What I would like to say is, how can you tell somebody that their family died horribly from inadequate care and a poor attempt to save his life?”

Trammell’s death received renewed attention earlier this month after a USA Today Network investigation highlighted the March 2023 death of 19-year-old Trammell — a disabled man who died after striking his head multiple times during a mental health crisis — in an investigation into jail deaths across Ohio.

Trammell’s friend and former co-worker Caitlin Miner attended Tuesday’s meeting to share memories of the 19-year-old, whom she described as compassionate, unfiltered and outgoing.

She said the discovery of his treatment at the jail, caught on surveillance footage, shocked her and their group of friends to their core.

“Had Isaiah gotten a chance to be taken care of correctly, or a chance to talk, take his meds and calm down, I believe he would still be alive today,” she said.

Dayton Daily News reporting last year revealed more inmates died at the Montgomery County Jail last year than all of 2021 and 2022 combined, leading to calls for the community to take action.

Our analysis of state data also showed more people died after coming into custody at the Montgomery County Jail last year than any other jail in Ohio. The Dayton Daily News investigated what was causing this rash of fatalities, and what county officials were doing about it.

Montgomery County administrator Michael Colbert said the Montgomery County Commission does not have authority over the jail aside from infrastructure and equipment. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office is tasked with overseeing jail operations.

Colbert said the county is investing $20 million in updating the jail to include more medical and detox space in the facility, and the Montgomery County Behavioral Health Task Force is looking toward more ways to address addiction and mental health needs in the community.

Electronic home monitoring is also is used in Montgomery County to keep people out of jail as they await trial or sentencing, Colbert said, and a health care portal also is in development to help jail staff and other medical professionals see what health conditions an inmate may have as they’re walking in the door.

Colbert called the jail’s health care provider, Naphcare, the “foremost vendor in the space.”

Naphcare has received criticism from members of the Montgomery County Jail Coalition.

Members of the jail coalition on Tuesday said they weren’t attending to cast blame on anyone for the 2023 deaths. Rather, they were there to double down on the need for accountability and the pursuit of creative solutions to prevent further harm.

“This isn’t about pointing fingers and finding blame,” said Beebe. “This is about stopping people from dying in our jail. And it’s your job to figure out what happens next.”

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