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Ohio Jail Officials Face Federal Charges, Investigation
According to the indictment, guards John Gray and Jay Schmeltz beat and choked jail prisoner Carlton Benton, 25, leaving him unconscious without medical attention. Benton was awaiting trial on charges of double homicide; he was naked and handcuffed at the time of the incident, and later died at a hospital.
The coroner ruled that Benton’s June 1, 2004 death was due to natural causes related to a seizure, despite having found “recent abrasions on [his] neck, hands, and feet.” But the coroner did not have the whole story. Gray and Schmeltz tried to cover-up what happened by writing false reports, according to the indictment, and they were supported by Capt. Robert McBroom, an internal affairs investigator at the jail, and by Sheriff James Telb. McBroom and Telb were charged with making false statements during an investigation by the FBI.
The cover-up came to light after former guard Tina Anaya (AKA Tina Hill) came forward on March 10, 2008, the same day that jail officials recommended she be fired due to an unrelated incident in which she had lied to a state trooper. In April 2009, nearly five years after Benton died, the county coroner’s office said it may revise his cause of death upon learning that he had been placed in a “sleeper hold” by Gray.
“This poor man was laying butt naked on his stomach on the bed, and the officers were jumping and jumping, and stomping and kicking and punching and smothering his face and choking him,” Anaya stated. Sheriff’s officials acknowledged that Benton was likely placed in a choke hold but denied he was jumped on, kicked or punched.
Benton’s family has since sued Lucas County, alleging violations of his constitutional rights in connection with his death. The lawsuit, which was removed to federal court, has been stayed pending the outcome of the criminal charges against Gray, Schmeltz, McBroom and Telb, who have not yet gone to trial. See: Coley v. Lucas County, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ohio), Case No. 3:09-cv-00008.
Federal authorities are also looking into the August 20, 2006 death of a prisoner at the Summit County Jail in Ohio. Mark D. McCullough, Jr., 28, died in a cell in the jail’s mental health unit after he was Tasered, handcuffed, pepper sprayed, hog tied while kneeling over his bunk, and injected with drugs by a jail nurse. An autopsy found he also had an “unspecified anal injury.”
In August 2008, jail guard Stephen Krendick was acquitted of state murder charges for allegedly stomping on McCullough’s head five or six times and then pepper spraying him while he was restrained. Four other guards were charged with felonious assault or reckless homicide: Sgt. Brett Hadley and deputies Brian Polinger, Mark Mayer and Dominic Martucci. However, those charges were dropped when Krendick was found not guilty following an eight-day trial.
The state’s case against Krendick was hampered after Taser International, Inc. filed suit and obtained a court order requiring the Summit County medical examiner to change the cause of McCullough’s death from homicide to “undetermined.” [See: PLN, Jan. 2009, p.28]. The court held that the medical examiner had erred in concluding that Tasering contributed to McCullough’s death, and Krendick used the change in the death certificate as a defense during his state court prosecution.
In May 2009, the FBI and U.S. Attorney General’s Office announced they would conduct their own investigation to determine whether federal charges should be filed.
Sources: U.S. Department of Justice, www.wtol.com, www.ohio.com, Toledo Blade
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Related legal case
Coley v. Lucas County
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ohio), Case No. 3:09-cv-00008|