County attorneys in jail lawsuit ask judge to deny request for injunction

Montgomery County attorneys asked a federal judge Tuesday to deny a preliminary injunction by plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit alleging overcrowding, mistreatment and a faulty grievance process.

Attorney Susan Blasik-Miller argued in Dayton’s U.S. District Court that plaintiffs had not met the standard of “clear and convincing evidence” of any constitutional violations.

Plaintiffs attorney David Greer responded that the defendants’ motion should not be granted because of the jail’s “pretrial detainees whose rights have been trampled,” citing current and former inmates who testified Monday. Greer said of 26,000 jail inmates per year, only five percent end up serving prison time.

U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice did not immediately rule on the motion and asked the defense to present their case. Plaintiffs rested their case earlier Tuesday after calling Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office employees.

Jail corrections officer Sherri Mullenix testified that while a jail grievance phone number is supposed to be for following up on previously filed issues, she listened to each one and made notes: “I erase it once I get the message off of it.”

Mullenix also said she usually works 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. so that, unless she worked overtime during a weekend, a complaint at 4 p.m. Friday wouldn’t be heard until Monday morning. She said she usually hears one to five voice mails per shift.

Mullenix testified she didn’t readily know the standards in the jail manual to check to see if a grievance was handled correctly.

As to why the jail handbook was not worded exactly the same as the jail’s policies and procedures, Mullenix said: “I don’t know.”

Mullenix also testified she was not aware of anything that tracked whether housing officers actually gave requested grievance forms to inmates or if they were passed up the chain of command.

Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office personnel director Julie Droessler said she constantly advertises corrections officer openings but that the jail is down about 11 of those positions.

Droessler said her theory for why those spots are hard to fill was that the “economy is booming,” businesses are paying high wages and that many corrections officer applicants can’t back the background drug tests that find marijuana, cocaine and heroin: “They can’t work in the jail,” she said. “That’s one of our major factors.”

Droessler said part of the reason for the high turnover rate — plaintiffs’ attorneys put the number at nearly 30 percent — was because the job is a stepping stone to other, higher-paying law enforcement positions.

Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Julie Stephens — an office employee since 1986 — said the low number of nine written grievances in a half-year period was due to good communication between jail employees and inmates.

“It’s just easier to take care of that problem before it becomes that formal process,” Stephens said, adding that there are issue but that she trusts the integrity of the corrections officers.

Stephens also testified that sergeants are required to do a full jail walk-through at least once per shift.

Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday despite many federal buildings being closed for a national day of mourning after the death of former President George H.W. Bush.