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Inmate slept on toilet; jail staff hoped to protect him from himself

David Cooper wore only a gown as he slept sitting up on a toilet in a Montgomery County Jail cell visible from an area lighted and air conditioned 24 hours per day, according to statements made in court Wednesday.

Cooper, 35, who was determined to be a suicide risk by jail personnel, slept without a blanket in that condition — or on a concrete floor — for much of his four-month stay at the jail in 2012, according to an opening statement by his attorney, John Helbling.

“Is he a prisoner of war someplace?” Helbling asked the 8-person jury Wednesday morning during Cooper’s civil rights trial against Montgomery County in Dayton’s U.S. District Court. “The conditions of his confinement were horrific.”

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County defense attorney Anne Jagielski said the jail hadn’t had an inmate like Cooper before his stay and hasn’t had one like him after it.

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“Mr. Cooper was a unique and an exceptional inmate in the Montgomery County Jail,” said Jagielski, who noted that Cooper had a history of mental illness and harmed himself by swallowing a door hinge, cutting himself with utensils and eating part of his mattress while in general population. “The evidence will show Montgomery County did everything to protect Mr. Cooper.”

Helbling said his client challenged jail staff to get him a “suicide mattress” and a blanket for his stay in the glass-walled “fishbowl” cell.

RELATED: Trial to start of inmate suing for not getting mattress in jail

Helbling said Cooper’s confinement was an insult to the jail system and the Constitution. “His condition was so desperate that the only good night’s sleep he could get was if he went to the hospital.”

Jagielski said many meetings were held regarding Cooper and that things Cooper could use to hurt himself were taken away from him.

The trial’s first witness, sheriff’s office Maj. Daryl Wilson, was the jail commander from 2008 through 2012.

RELATED: County spending on lawsuits passes $1 million

Wilson testified that he was aware that inmates’ clothes, mattress and blankets could get taken away when they were in the “suicide cells” near the booking area.

Wilson said he didn’t know about any written policies on the removal of items and, until Cooper’s stay, he wasn’t aware of any “bargaining process” used by jail and/or medical staff as a way that inmates may get items back.

Wilson said he did discuss Cooper’s stay with Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer, Capt. Chuck Crosby and medical/mental health staff.

JUSTICE IN THE JAILHOUSE: Lawsuits, accusations plague region’s county jails

The civil lawsuit is the first of several filed against jail staff in recent years for alleged abuse and/or neglect to go to trial.

Four other cases have settled for $888,000 plus the county spent another $444,000 on outside legal counsel and litigation costs, according to county records. Other cases are pending.

The Cooper trial is scheduled to continue until early next week.

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