Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer vigorously defended jail employees a day after county commissioners called for a federal investigation because of seven pending lawsuits alleging mistreatment in the county jail.
7 LAWSUITS: A look at each one
“We have murderers, we have rapists, we have gang-bangers in our jail,” Plummer said Wednesday during a press conference. “Our employees have been assaulted, they have been spit on, they have had urine and feces thrown on them. They do an excellent job managing this difficult population.”
Plummer listed 11 organizations that have given their accreditation to the Montgomery County Jail, including the Ohio Bureau of Adult Detention and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).
Plummer said more than 27,000 people have been booked into the jail during the five-year period the lawsuits span and that the way the commission announced their concerns was “aggressive and politically charged.”
Commissioners Debbie Lieberman, Judy Dodge and Dan Foley are Democrats, while Plummer is a Republican and chairman of the Montgomery County GOP.
The commissioners — who control the sheriff’s budget but have no authority over that office — sent a letter to the acting head of the civil rights division of the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of mistreatment.
EARLIER: Commission asks for federal probe
“I have 450 officers who work very hard and put their lives on the line every day for the citizens of Montgomery County,” Plummer said. “Are they all perfect? Absolutely not. If we have a situation where we have misconduct, it is immediately investigated and properly handled.
“For the commissioners to accuse my employees of violating civil rights without due process is totally out of line.”
Plummer said he’s been sheriff for eight years and worked in the department for 30. “I’ve devoted my life to this community,” he said. “For me to be treated like this is uncalled for and unacceptable, and I will not stand for it.”
A spokeswoman for the county commission said they had no comment about Plummer’s press conference and that their views hadn’t changed.
“If the commissioners are so concerned about the safety of the inmates in our jail, why is it they’ve only visited the jail one time each in the past eight years that I’ve been sheriff?” Plummer asked. “These lawsuits have not had their day in court and, as we all know, there are two sides to every story. So please allow the system to run the course before you make your outrageous statements.”
Plummer said Dayton police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are looking at Capt. Judith Sealey’s use of pepper spray against a woman strapped in a seven-point harness.
The sheriff said he would be OK if the justice department also decided to investigate all the civil rights allegations.
“I’m not encouraging them to come, but our doors are open,” Plummer said. “We’re transparent with everything we do.”
Plummer said his Improving Modern Police and Community Trust (IMPACT) committee has been discussing a civilian jail review initiative the past two months, which was similar to what commissioners said they discussed with Plummer on Tuesday.
“This is already a work in progress,” Plummer said Wednesday of a group of community members who may inspect the jail every month. “(Foley) is unqualified to call me over and tell me how to run this jail, and I take offense to it.”
Plummer said the commission has turned him down when he’s asked for “common-sense” items like a body scanner to detect drugs. The sheriff said they are not allowed to search for drugs in body cavities, and that’s how drugs enter the jail.
Plummer said funding has not been there to address mental health issues of the jail population. The sheriff said he’d like to see the commissioners at the jail on a weekend night so they could “see the people suffering from mental illnesses bang their head on the jail cells, and we have to go in there and make sure they don’t hurt themselves or others,” he said, adding, “So, please come into the jail if you have all the answers. We welcome you.”
Plummer said young corrections officers often work in the jail because fully sworn deputies were deemed too expensive. Plus, since one captain is on medical leave and Sealey is on administrative leave, the leadership team is short-handed.
“My officers have to go home to their families and their loved ones,” Plummer said. “We don’t pay them enough to fight people like that in that jail. They’re not rioting in my jail. They’re not killing my corrections officers because we run a very tight ship, and I will continue to run a very tight ship.”
As for the lawsuits, any possible costly settlements or concerns about videos showing jail personnel interacting with inmates, Plummer said: “I ask the public to be patient, let the investigations run their course, let the lawsuits run their course. … And if you just comply, we wouldn’t have that situation.”
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