“I don’t know how you can live with yourself.”
by Ed Lyon
In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, County Executive Armond Budish (D) is now the last man standing in a decade-long county government and jail malfeasance and mismanagement scandal, after his appointed jail director, Ken Mills, was sentenced to a nine-month jail term on October 8, 2021.
Mills earned the sentence with his conviction on September 10, 2021, on two misdemeanor counts of falsifying records and two misdemeanor counts of dereliction of duty. A jury acquitted him a third-degree felony count of record-tampering.
Calling conditions Mills allowed at the county jail “horrific,” Judge Patricia Cosgrove imposed the maximum sentence and told him: “I don’t know how you can live with yourself.”
A total of nine prisoners died at the jail over just a six-month period in 2018. [See: PLN, May 2020, p.48.] But prosecutors described a nearly ten-year-long scheme to turn the county’s jail system into a profit-making enterprise, one that originated under Budish’s predecessor, Ed Fitzgerald.
After Budish took over, he appointed Mills to run the jail system under Sheriff Clint Pinkney, another Budish appointee. Mills is a U.S. Coast Guard retiree with no law enforcement or corrections training or experience, and Pinkney was reportedly never comfortable with him. Mills was responsible for running the main jail facility in Cleveland as well as outlying facilities in Bedford Hills and Euclid.
Prior to his trial, his predecessor pleaded guilty to similar charges and agreed to testify against him along with 27 other witnesses in a nine-day trial. Eight of the 10 jail guards who were prosecuted for jail-related crimes during Mills’ tenure were convicted.
One of those former guards, Martin Devering, was sentenced to 30 days in jail in April 2020 after he pleaded guilty to charges of dereliction of duty and records tampering stemming from a prisoner’s death.
One of the measures Mills took to reduce jail expenses was to cut back on basic prisoner needs, including food and hygiene items like soap and toilet paper. This was followed by reductions in medical staff and care, resulting in a November 2018 audit by the U.S. Marshal’s Service that found the jail was “one of the worst in the country.” [See: PLN, Mar. 2019, p.12.]
A jail tour conducted that same year by the county inspector general’s office and a state prison official found food up to two years past its expiration date, non-working toilets, no running water, dirty clothing and even sleeping mats on the dayroom floor where prisoners were forced to sleep—some of whom were pregnant.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) spoke after the trial about guards who smuggled drugs to some prisoners while assaulting others and about denial of medical care at the jail.
“With this conviction, Mills can think about his own potential time behind bars,” Yost said, “and hope that it will run better than the hellhole he ran for Cuyahoga County.”
Attorney Kevin Spellacy, who represented Mills at trial, said his client was “relieved that he won’ t have a felony on his record.” Spellacy added he “expects to appeal the misdemeanor convictions,” as well, but the felony charge of which the jury acquitted Mills was “the big ticket.”
Regarding confinement conditions at the jail, Spellacy said he has been hearing “the same complaints about the same issues” for his entire career. Moreover, he said, nothing has changed since Mills left, and for that reason he characterized the prosecution as one that set “a dangerous precedent.”
“Whether Mills is fully responsible or whether he’s a scapegoat, that’s probably for somebody else to decide,” the attorney added.
Meanwhile documents seized from Budish’s office in 2019 as part of the probe into Mills have recently brought the County Executive under renewed scrutiny for plotting revenge against his critics on the city council. In an editorial published on December 22, 2021, the Cleveland Plain Dealer called for Budish’s resignation for his “sleazy dealings” that trace “back to his secretive scheme to slash costs and cut corners at the County Jail.”
Sources: Cleveland Plain Dealer, WEWS-TV
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