Jail overcrowding lawsuit leads Montgomery County to hire outside counsel for sheriff

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
The number of females booked into the Montgomery County Jail annually has gone up by 13%

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A judge turned down a request last week for an immediate inspection of the Montgomery County Jail in a federal class-action lawsuit that alleges overcrowding.

But a plaintiffs’ attorney said a new motion should allow a look at conditions after allegations were made in a lawsuit against Sheriff Phil Plummer.

Judge Walter H. Rice turned down the request made by the attorneys for current inmates Nicholas Alston, Keith Barber and others who are claiming unsafe jail conditions.

“Everybody has some idea what crowding does to people, and it’s not a good thing,” said David Greer, one of the attorneys representing the inmates. “Overcrowding tends to create other problems and augment others that exist.”

FIRST REPORT: Federal lawsuit seeks action for Montgomery County Jail overcrowding

Greer said the motion to inspect the jail was denied due to how the request was made. He expects a tour will be allowed after a proper motion is filed.

“We’re in the process of putting together a request for injunctive relief that will hopefully move the case forward,” he said.

The class-action suit seeks relief from overcrowding and other conditions alleged at the county jail, including the use of lockdowns that put inmates “into a virtual solitary-confinement situation,” according to the complaint.

Filed in July, the lawsuit is at least the 13th federal case against the jail alleging mistreatment of inmates filed in the past five years.

The lawsuits’ costs to the county and its insurers are expected to reach $10 million or more, Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman has said. Of the lawsuits, one has gone to trial resulting in a verdict favoring the county, one has been dismissed and four have been settled out of court.

RELATED: Cost of lawsuits against county jail could top $10M, official says

About $1.4 million has been paid so far for the cases, including $888,000 in settlements.

Like other pending cases, the overcrowding case is adding costs. Montgomery County Commissioners on Tuesday approved hiring outside legal counsel to defend Plummer.

The commission’s resolution Tuesday will pay attorneys Susan Blasik-Miller and Kelly Schroeder and their law firm Freund, Freeze and Arnold up to $100,000 through Dec. 31 to represent the sheriff.

Consultants hired by the Montgomery County Jail Justice Advisory Committee were let into the jail recently, and what they described last month paralleled some of the inmates’ claims.

MORE: Consultants express staffing, overcrowding concerns about Montgomery County Jail

The consultants told the committee — formed in March 2017 to head off further lawsuits — that the jail is antiquated, over capacity and poorly laid out, serving neither inmates nor staff well.

Pods designed to house 48 inmates now house 104, and areas designated for activities have been converted to housing, said consultants Brad Sassatelli and George Vose of CGL Companies

Plummer said last month that the jail population is based on factors out of his control, including judge and bail decisions and state legislation that puts convicted fifth-degree felony offenders in local jails instead of prison.

“The criminal justice community along with the judges have done an excellent job managing the jail population,” said Plummer, a Republican who is running for an Ohio House seat in November. He faces Democrat Ryan Taylor, a Wright State University lecturer, in the 40th District race.

DETAILS: What each of the 13 lawsuits filed against the Montgomery County Jail claim

In July, the jail had 780 inmates and 910 beds, Plummer said. The lawsuit cites a November 2016 Ohio jail inspection report that recommends inmate capacity at 443 but noted that 791 people were being housed.

“Obviously there are two ways to address the overcrowding and problems it either augments or increases — and those are ways of rationally reducing the population or expanding the space,” Greer said.