Inmates testify about jail conditions, sheriff calls old jail ‘barbaric’

Former and current Montgomery County Jail inmates testified Monday in federal court about alleged mistreatment while Sheriff Phil Plummer said the old portion of the jail was “antiquated, barbaric and embarrassing.”

The testimony during a preliminary injunction hearing in Dayton’s U.S. District Court is part of a class action lawsuit alleging improper punishment, poor medical attention, overcrowding, under staffing and the lack of grievance due process.

One attorney representing Montgomery County said much of the draft report from CGL to a jail oversight committee commends Plummer’s staff for managing the jail at national standards despite staff and budgetary constraints.

“It’s not like a hotel or a college dormitory,” attorney Susan Blasik-Miller said during an opening statement, adding that inmates throw bodily fluids at each other and staff members. “It’s different because of the people it houses.”

Local attorney Carol Holm said she had a jail client say he was sexually abused and that she asked for jail personnel to follow up with her. Holm said she never heard from jail leadership about what actions they may have taken.

Plummer testified that he didn’t know what percentage of inmates were pretrial detainees versus convicted criminals, but that the number could be calculated.

Plummer also said he was not aware of any corrective plan after a state jail inspection asked for a plan of how to get down to the 443-inmate limit based on square footage.

He testified that he is about 33 corrections officers low and six supervisory positions lower than he would like.

Asked by Rice if the 1960s-built portion of the jail is up to 2018 standards, Plummer said, “No. It’s embarrassing sir.”

Plummer also said “personalities” didn’t allow all sides to find common ground to solve issues involving the jail.

Multiple inmates testified that “kites” or messages to jail sergeants were not responded to, grievance forms weren’t provided and that they didn’t know about a phone complaint system that could be used if they were not satisfied by the grievance process.

Former inmate Keith Barber testified that he entered the jail while recovering from gunshot wounds and wasn’t supposed to put weight on that leg. Barber said his wheelchair was taken away for non-medical reasons.

Barber said lock-downs would occur for the actions of one person and that an entire pod wouldn’t be allowed to shower, exercise or use the phones for sometimes 24 to 48 hours.

“A sergeant would laugh about it and say that it was his house,” Barber said, quoting a corrections officer. “Don’t come to his house if you don’t like the rules.”

Other inmates testified about black mold in showers, feces and urine not cleaned for 12 hours, inadequate cleaning supplies to address messes, paperwork missing after cell searches, being held without bedding, not getting copies of the inmate handbook and not getting proper and/or timely medical attention.

Plaintiffs’ attorney David Greer said the witnesses who testified Monday “fully articulated the issues” they wanted to address.

The preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning with several more witnesses.

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