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Ohio County Pays $4 Million To Settle Claim Over Death of Jail Detainee

by Matt Clarke

On December 9, 2021, an agreement was reached by Richland County, Ohio, paying $4 million to settle claims in a suit that was about to be brought by the family of Alexander Jose Rios, a pretrial detainee who died at the county jail following an altercation with guards on September 19, 2019.

Because the survivors included three minor children by three different mothers and involved probate courts in two different Ohio counties, the probate matters were not finally settled until March 2022.

On the morning of his fatal altercation, Rios, 28, was booked into the jail on an outstanding drug-related warrant. Later in the day, he expressed concern that he should already have been released. Although video showed Rios was calm and cooperative, jail supervisor Sgt. Jamaal O’Dell decided to move the detainee from general population to the booking area as a suicide prevention precaution.

Just before midnight, Rios began demanding to be released while perched on a dividing wall within the holding cell. Disregarding Rios’s attempts at communication, O’Dell issued directives and ultimatums — tactics “antithetical to the correctional setting,” the settlement noted — before ordering an extraction team to enter the holding cell and seize Rios to place him in a restraint chair. When they opened the cell door, Rios rushed out and ran around the booking area, all of which was captured on video.

A guard pulled Rios to the floor and another guard dove on top of him, leading with his knee, and then began striking him. Rios was in a fetal position and not resisting when one of the guards delivered a knee strike to his groin. Guards then repeatedly shocked him with Tasers.

Additional guards joined the scrum. One had his right forearm across Rios’ head. A guard named Cooper had his right boot on Rios’ upper left shoulder area. A third guard pushed Rios’ head against the floor as Cooper then moved his boot to Rios’ neck.

Rios was desperately trying to breathe. Instead of backing off, guards struck him twice in the back of the head while Cooper shifted all of his weight to Rios’ neck, clearly lifting his right boot off the floor, and began bouncing up and down. Later, Cooper shifted his weight to Rios’ upper back.

The video shows Rios’ face turning gray, then blue, but guards failed to notice until they secured his hands behind his back and lifted his limp form onto the restraint chair. Rios never regained consciousness and died seven days later after life support was removed.

The Richland County coroner listed “excited delirium” as the cause of death, noting that Rios’ urine showed the presence of amphetamines, and a ruptured plastic bag had been found in his stomach.

The family engaged attorneys J.C. Ratliff of the Ratliff Law Office in Marion and Sarah Gelsomino of Friedman, Gilbert & Gerhardstein in Cleveland. They hired Dr. Philip Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University, to examine the video. He said the guards’ efforts to subdue Rios were “sloppy” and “demonstrated a gross disregard for the value of human life.”

Before a suit could be filed, the County entered into mediation leading to a settlement agreement filed in Probate Court for Huron County. Under that, Rios’ three minor children received $661,922.78 each and his parents received $330,961.39 each. The family’s attorneys were paid the balance of the $4 million total — $1,352,291.06 — for their fees and costs. See: In the matter of Alexander Rios, Oh. Prob. (Huron Cty.), Case No. ES-2020-00083.

The Richland County Prosecutor’s Office and the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation reportedly investigated the death. So far, no charges have been filed against any of the jail guards involved. Rios’ older brother, Adam, who said he also “works in corrections,” wondered: “Was his noncompliance a death sentence?”

“Just because somebody does something you don’t agree with doesn’t mean they should die for it,” Adam Rios said. 

Sources: Columbus Dispatch, Mansfield News Journal, Sandusky Register, WEWS

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Related legal case

In the matter of Alexander Rios, Oh. Prob. (Huron Cty.),