The local leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference unloaded a slew of allegations Wednesday against Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer, accusing him of allowing unchecked racism in his department and asking him to step down from office.
>> RELATED: Fired deputies took disability retirement
Bishop Richard Cox and the head of the local New Black Panther Party held a press conference in Dayton claiming they were inspired to act after being contacted by several black and white sheriff’s office employees.
Among the allegations, Cox claimed:
- The sheriff’s office routinely segregates inmates at the county jail, placing white female inmates in the nicer areas and black females in the more dilapidated cells.
- Complaints about racism and segregation of inmates made to Plummer have led to retaliation against the complaining employees instead of internal investigations.
- More people were involved in texting racist messages than the sheriff publicly acknowledged after a 2015 probe, and that command staff was “involved” in the texting.
- The sheriff has misled the public about misdeeds by his officers and the punishment they received, including saying that two deputies involved in the racist texting were fired when in fact they retired on medical disability.
“This has been going on for quite some time, and that shows the racism that’s allegedly happening at the sheriff’s office is totally out of control,” Cox said.
“Is it corruption? is it coverup? Is it lies? Is it racism? I believe it’s all of these things,” he said, “and because of that, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is asking Sheriff Plummer to resign immediately from the sheriff’s office and as the chairman of the (Montgomery County) Republican Party.”
Plummer’s office sent a deputy who said he was from its “social media” section to record the press conference. Cox and Donald Domineck from the Dayton New Black Panther Party asked him to leave and accused the sheriff of “intimidation.”
Plummer said he sent someone to record the allegations so they could be properly investigated since the SCLC hadn’t raised these concerns directly with his office. After reading reports of Cox’s claims, he called them “outrageous.”
“All of these allegations don’t add up,” Plummer said.
Plummer said concerns about the racial segregating of inmates has been brought up and looked into by command staff — some of whom are black — and “they assured us this is not going on.”
He said classifying inmates is a challenge, especially as the female population grows. He said classification is done by type of crime, violence, age, mental illness, history and other factors.
“Classification isn’t done by race. It’s done by all those variables,” he said.
This newspaper requested records on the racial breakdown of inmate housing Wednesday, but did not receive them by press time.
Records on staffing levels show the jail has 88 white corrections officers and 22 non-white corrections officers.
Plummer said recruiting minority officers is a priority, but is a challenge for all law enforcement agencies.
Handling of deputies
Plummer also responded to claims that he “lied” about deputies being fired and the length of their suspensions after an investigation into racist text messages among deputies.
He said he did fire the two employees and doled out suspensions to others he thought was fair, and was powerless to do anything about two of them then taking disability retirement and a third using union arbitration to have a suspension commuted.
“This is totally out of my control,” he said.
Officials with the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System confirmed Wednesday that the employer’s only role in the disability retirement process is to confirm whether the employee worked there and provide his or her job description. The decision on whether to grant disability retirement is made by OPERS based on an independent medical review.
Dayton Unit NAACP President Derrick Foward said his agency conducted a 3 1/2-month investigation of the racist text messages and applauded the sheriff’s response.
“Based on the evidence that the NAACP was able to collect from our complainant, the Dayton Unit NAACP was very pleased to take two high-level management deputies off the force who definitely showed insensitively to the African American community,” he said.
Foward called for an investigation of the “flawed” pension system that approved the disability retirements.
“That’s where the issue lies in this particular case,” he said.
Foward said he hopes to see Plummer continue to require diversity training for his staff.
“To be able to change a culture that exists in any workforce is extremely hard,” he said.
3 current probes
Meanwhile, an investigation continues into comments made by Maj. Scott Landis, who was allegedly caught on a recording saying a black corrections officer should “go back to his thug life.”
And Plummer said Wednesday that Capt. Judith Sealey was placed on administrative leave last week and the Dayton Police Department is investigating whether she should face criminal charges for pepper spraying a restrained inmate.
Plummer said that he asked the city police department to investigate after viewing video of Sealey — then a sergeant in the jail — using pepper spray on inmate Amber Swink, who was strapped down in a seven-point harness.
“(Sealey) is not exempt from criminal prosecution, she is not exempt from termination,” Plummer said Wednesday. “She is going to be treated like everybody else.”
Plummer said he had not seen video of the pepper spraying before Swink’s attorney filed a federal lawsuit and released the video publicly. He claims the video and other records have been stolen from the sheriff’s office.
Plummer said a separate, criminal investigation into the theft of those records is being handled by his office.