A state inspection of the Montgomery County Jail is scheduled for this week as the facility comes under new management and sits besieged by controversy.
Corrections officers have told the I-Team that federal agents have been in the jail to investigate a deputy’s use of pepper spray on a restrained inmate. They also are looking into concerns that arose in the wake of that incident becoming public, including the disappearance of public records.
This joins a city of Dayton criminal investigation of the same incident; an internal probe of allegations that female inmates are racially segregated; a state review of a child killer’s death while in custody; and four civil lawsuits alleging mistreatment of inmates.
Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer tapped Maj. Matt Haines to lead the jail through this time of tumult. Haines has two decades of law enforcement experience, including a couple years at the county jail. His father served 12 years as sheriff of Montgomery County.
Plummer promoted Haines from captain and commander of the combined dispatch center. He replaced and demoted former jail commander Maj. Scott Landis — now a captain.
Haines wouldn’t comment on any of the pending probes.
“I’m trying to find out what works well, and if there’s something that needs changed, to make good changes,” he said.
Haines did allow a reporter to tour the jail — a clean but overcrowded maze of pods, dorms and crammed cells filled with filtered sunlight and mostly listless men and women waiting for their day in court or serving out their sentences.
Officials with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office both said their policy is to neither confirm nor deny the existence of an ongoing investigation there.
But jail workers say federal agents have been in and out of the jail in recent days asking about Capt. Judith Sealey blasting inmate Amber Swink in the face with pepper spray while Swink was tied down in a restraint chair. They also are looking into the subsequent disappearance of the video and other records of the incident.
Sealey is on paid leave while Dayton police also review the incident and weigh whether to bring assault charges.
MORE ON THE PEPPER SPRAY INCIDENT
Inspection this week
That incident happened in November 2015 while Sealey was a sergeant, less than three months before she was promoted to captain. An I-Team review of Sealey’s use of force at the jail found she pepper-sprayed five other inmates in a one-month period.
In two cases, she reported that she had inmates put their faces up to the food port and sprayed them in the face after they complied.
The I-Team requested copies of the videos of these incidents and was told they will not be released because they are part of the ongoing investigation.
The state Bureau of Adult Detention inspection scheduled for Thursday and Friday will look at whether the county jail meets minimum state standards. To pass inspection, the jail must meet 100 percent of standards deemed “essential” and 90 percent of those considered “important.”
Several essential standards require jails to have and follow policies on use of force such as pepper-spraying an inmate, and to document when they occur.
“Use of force shall be limited to instances of justifiable self defense, prevention of self-inflicted harm, protection of others, prevention of riot, discharge of firearm or other weapon, escape or other crime and controlling or subduing an inmate who refuses to obey a staff command or order,” says the 23-page list of state standards.
The Bureau of Adult Detention falls under the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
“Inspections consist of a physical walk through of the jail with specific attention being given to select areas and items (for example: random checks of sinks, toilets, showers, locks to ensure they are operational, and checks of other security features),” wrote ODRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith in an email response to questions. “The inspector observes the physical condition of the jail including inmate living areas, observes general procedures, and interviews staff and inmates.”
If a jail is non-compliant, it is required to submit a plan to fix problems.
The Montgomery County Jail met all essential standards and enough important standards to be deemed “compliant” in its last inspection in March. It fell short on several standards related to overcrowding.
The Bureau of Adult Detention is separately reviewing the death of Dustin Rybak, which is standard when an inmate dies in custody.
Rybak was serving 18 years in state prison for the 2013 death of 19-month-old Takota Hasty, but was in county jail to testify in the trial of Jesse York, another man accused of killing a child. Rybak was found in his cell not breathing on Nov. 4 and died at the hospital Nov. 8.
An autopsy was conducted last week. County officials have not revealed the cause of death.
The Swink lawsuit is one of four civil lawsuits against the sheriff’s office for use of force or mistreatment of inmates.
Corrections officers also have alleged that black and white female inmates are treated differently, with black inmates being placed in older, more cramped cells and white inmates being put in larger, newer “dorm-style” settings.
An I-Team analysis of jail housing data found that the majority of female inmates are white and most reside in larger dorm-style housing while the black female population was mostly housed in smaller, more crowded “rollover” cells.
On the inside
Parts of the four-story complex on Second Street date to 1965 with renovations and additions in the 1990s and 2004.
Prisoners generally enter through the sally port, then are searched and led into a booking area where a raised desk staffed with officers overlook two bays of theater-style seating, one each for males and females waiting to be “dressed in and housed.”
It can be a long wait. State standards require it to be done within 12 hours. One day last week, the seats held about five women and twice as many men, some making collect calls on pay phones.
The room is lined with cells. Glass doors reveal men and women with wild-eyed expressions in some, others crumpled in awkward positions — a massive amount of the jail traffic comes in drunk or on drugs, Haines says.
“The vast majority are cooperative,” he said, as a man in one cell occasionally yelled and pounded on the door. “It is a jail, though.”
Restraint chairs like the one Swink was strapped into were stored in an empty cell.
Many inmates post bond without leaving this area. Others, once they sober up or can be booked in, are classified by officers who use a “complicated system,” Haines said, taking into account medical condition, history of violence, type of offense, and myriad other factors.
Once inmates are processed, most go upstairs where there are three types of cells: pods, dorms and rollover.
The pods are large, two-story octagons walled with cells. That’s where most male inmates reside. They sleep two to a cell, and spend the day in an open common area with a guard desk. There are 48 cells in one pod, plus another eight bunks in a day room created to add more beds.
“It’s a constant battle,” Haines said. “Too many people, not enough space.”
Most of the female inmates are housed on the second floor in one of two types of cells. The female inmate population has exploded in recent years — due largely to the heroin epidemic, Haines notes — with the number of inmate commonly reaching 180.
‘Safety and security’
The older cells were renovated in the 1990s and don’t meet current standards for space-per-inmate. They are called “rollover” cells because they are divided, one side holding bunk beds and the other holding tables, phones and a television. The gate between the areas is locked during meal and bed times, and open the rest of the day.
Each side of one cell was no more than several hundred square feet. It was cramped, with 12 women — five black and seven white — huddled on a metal picnic table, one flipping through a deck of playing cards that listed unsolved homicides. The toilet hung from the wall.
The dorm-style units were added later, some converted from the jail gym or old administrative offices. “It’s just using every available space that we have,” Haines said.
Those cells are much larger, maybe a few thousand square feet. Up to 61 inmates can be housed in one two-story room with five toilets and showers behind doors, a small library, a television seating area, tables, and a phone bank. A guard sits constant watch.
“There might be a reason, medical or otherwise, we might want someone to be in a dorm so we can see them better than someone in a rollover,” Haines said.
Haines worked as a sergeant in the jail about nine years ago. Today, he is in charge of two captains — including Sealey — 14 sergeants and 120 corrections officers. They look out for the well-being of more than 800 men and women.
His role, he said, is “to ensure the safety and security of the inmates, the employees and visitors of the Montgomery County jail and our court security.”
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