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Ohio: Mixed Verdicts Against Guards Involved in Prisoner’s Death

On December 3, 2010, Lucas County, Ohio Sheriff James Telb was acquitted of all criminal charges related to the death of a prisoner.

Telb and three sheriff’s employees were indicted after Lucas County jail prisoner Carlton Benton, 25, died on June 1, 2004 after being taken to a hospital unconscious and unresponsive. Benton’s death was believed to have been the result of a beating and “sleeper hold” administered by guards. [See: PLN, Oct. 2009, p.48].

Sheriff Telb was accused of covering up the incident and lying to the FBI about what had happened. Robert McBroom, an internal affairs investigator at the jail, faced similar charges. He also was acquitted at trial.

John E. Gray, a former jail sergeant, was charged with violating Benton’s civil rights by leaving him in his cell unconscious without medical attention. Gray was also charged with lying to the FBI and falsifying reports concerning the incident. He was convicted of the civil rights charges and one count of falsifying reports.

Jay M. Schmeltz, a retired Lucas County deputy, was charged with civil rights violations after he was captured on video pushing Benton while Benton was shackled. Schmeltz was acquitted of the civil rights charges but found guilty on one count of falsifying reports.
Richard Krieger, Sheriff Telb’s attorney, said that Telb was “absolutely delighted” about the acquittal and “very happy.” McBroom stated he was thankful the jury was able to “see through what the government was trying to do to us.”

Sheriff Telb had testified at trial that he “didn’t lie” to the FBI. Rather, Telb said he “didn’t remember” what took place.

The government’s case against Telb and the other defendants was supported by testimony from jail staff who claimed to have witnessed Benton being placed in a sleeper hold.

Schmeltz was sentenced on January 28, 2011 to one year and one day in federal prison, two years’ supervised release and a $6,000 fine. Three days later, Gray received a three-year prison term plus two years on supervised release. Both have filed appeals. See: United States v. Gray, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ohio), Case No. 3:09-cr-00182-DAK.

Benton’s family members, who were present throughout the criminal trial, declined to comment on the verdicts. A wrongful death suit filed by Benton’s family against the county remains pending. See: Coley v. Lucas County, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ohio), Case No. 3:09-cv-00008-VKA.

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Related legal cases

United States v. Gray

Coley v. Lucas County