CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Euclid Police are pushing the city to rebuild its own jail as some criminals are serving less time and convicted criminals are being left in the community.
The Police chief says those current issues stem from the fact that there’s nowhere to put the suspects his officers want behind bars.
For example, Euclid officers say they pulled over Clifford Weber for his sixth OVI just a few weeks ago. Sergeant Joel Barron says county officials told officers Weber’s offense was not serious enough to warrant Weber being booked into the Cuyahoga County jail.
“It’s very difficult to get people who need to go to jail to a jail,” Sgt. Baron said. “He hit a car sent two people to the hospital. Officers couldn’t take him to jail.” Sgt. Barron gave Weber’s story to Euclid City Council as an example of why he believes the city needs to get back into the jail business. “We can still respond to calls, but we are not as efficient he said. “We have no place to put people who need to go to jail.” It’s been years since the City of Euclid closed its jail and stopped bringing people to the facility that’s attached to their police station. Ever since, the city has been contracting with the county to house inmates. But recently, the chief says that’s not been meeting their needs.
Chief Scott Meyer sat down to further explain the problem to 19 Investigates. “It’s not just misdemeanors. It’s low-level felony offenders who are not being accepted or being held,” he said. “We’re genuinely concerned about people’s safety,” he said. And that’s not all. Meyer says the county will only house inmates for a certain amount of time for the city, so in many cases, he’s seen the judge hand down a minimum sentence. “There are some of those sentences that they just under their protocol won’t accept so there is really nothing to do with them,” Meyer said. The Cuyahoga County Sheriff said a few years ago, the county began requiring law enforcement agencies to get prisoners to be medically cleared, prior to bringing them to the jail.
Other than that, the sheriff says the current intake restrictions are COVID-related. As of April 5, the county says it has 24 inmates who are COVID-positive. That’s doubled from the 12 that were positive on Friday, April 2.
Because the spread of the virus is very much an issue still inside the jail, the sheriff ordered the county not to “accept those individuals arrested for new and/or sentenced misdemeanors other than for the charge of domestic violence.”
Below is the sheriff’s full statement sent to 19 Investigates in an email:
Since the community spread of COVID-19 began in Northeast Ohio in March 2020, the Cuyahoga County Jail, as well as the entire local justice community, has worked hard to strike a balance in its approach to COVID-19 management - balancing our legal and moral obligation to protect a high-risk population of inmates packed into an outdated jail against the requirements for arrestee intake and public safety.
The danger to the inmates was made explicitly clear by the medical experts at MetroHealth, the Jail’s healthcare contractor: “if the population is not quickly brought back down, we could likely see an explosion of infections at the jail (and possibly deaths)”.
As one part of a multi-pronged approach to fight against the spread of COVID-19 in the jail, the Sheriff instituted an order, amended from time to time, that it would not “accept those individuals arrested for new and/or sentenced misdemeanors other than for the charge of domestic violence”.
However, numerous other strategies were and are being employed by the Sheriff’s Department in collaboration with many various stakeholders in the criminal justice system. These include, but are not limited to:
- Transfer of Inmates to Other Locations - Frequently, CCCC inmates are sentenced and/or court ordered to be transferred to other locations – this includes, prison, halfway houses, Community Based Correction Facilities, other jails, etc.
- COVID Testing and Inmate Care - Nasopharyngeal COVID-19 testing is performed on all inmates entering the jail or transported from the jail to the other populations. To date, the total number of COVID+ tests for inmates is 887 since testing began.
- Staff and Inmate Vaccinations – On March 19, 2021, in partnership with MetroHealth, the County provided “one-and-done” Johnson & Johnson vaccination opportunities to all Jail Corrections Officers and Deputies. Further, on April 2, 2021, the Jail and MetroHealth began a pilot project designed to rapidly disseminate vaccinations to the inmate population.
- Jail Programming Suspended – All internal Jail programming was suspended in March 2020.
- Remote Video Visitation - CCCC also has remote video visitation whereby friends/family and attorneys can visit from their own homes either by computer or smartphone.
- Jail Inmate Population Reduction Effort - Beginning on March 18, 2020, at a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge’s meeting all the justice stakeholders came together to begin planning for the reduction effort. They included the County Sheriff’s department, Common Pleas and Municipal Courts, County and City prosecutors, Public Defender and the defense bar, and others. Their plan included the following:
- Justice partners examined the bonds of pre-trial inmates for the potential for a bond review, home detention, accelerated case management, etc.
- Judges and prosecutors examined inmate sentences for the potential of reduction or alternatives to detention.
- Judges suspended the issuing warrants for minor probation violations.
- Prosecutors triaging grand jury case presentations for low level drug and other cases.
- The County jail created and staffed “Zoom Posts” to provide remote hearings for isolated and quarantined inmates to expedite case processing and inmate releases.
- Justice system and processes were closely examined to eliminate inefficiencies leading to delays that could unnecessarily extend an inmate’s stay.
This demand for a balanced approach is as urgent today as it was at the commencement of the pandemic. While we have been successful in our fight to beat back the spread of infection down to 24 COVID-positive inmates, we spiked up to 41 as recently as March 17, 2021, and 300 on December 15, 2020. Currently, we have 120 inmates in COVID-19 exposure isolation. The risk of an internal, uncontrolled outbreak is still very real.
We know that as the community spread subsides due to widespread vaccinations, we can pare back the restrictions we have had to make. We are currently assessing all considerations on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis with stakeholders in the justice system processes and with medical experts. We will continue to strike that balance of inmate protection and public safety. We look forward, as does everyone else, to returning to the normalcies of an earlier time and plan on making appropriate and timely adjustments as 2021 progresses.
In Weber’s case Sgt. Barron said officers let him call a relative for a ride. “Come to find out, he begs a relative for a ride to the dealership where he works, so he could get in another car and drive home,” Barron said. Thankfully officers intervened before he got behind the wheel again, but Meyer says they wouldn’t have had to, if he’d just been in jail. “There are individuals where simply for their own safety or the safety of others, they need a timeout,” Meyer said.
19 Investigates reached out to nearly a dozen other departments, and none of them said they were having issues to the same magnitude as Euclid describes. That could be because many other cities in Cuyahoga County like Lakewood and Westlake at least have a holding facility where they could take someone like Weber until the county has room or he’s no longer a threat to the community. Euclid’s facility is not even open for that though, and that’s why the chief is pushing for the city to rebuild. Euclid police gave us an exclusive look inside their old jail, explaining that it’s so outdated, it would be almost impossible to get the state to allow it to open again. “We’d have to put a lot of money into it to get a compliant and it’s an obsolete design. The best way to handle it would be to build a new facility,” Meyer said. Chief Scott Meyer says when the facility that attached to the police department was built ‚the city used to pay county corrections officers to run it. “It was a really good it was really good setup and deal for both of us at the time,” he said. Around 5 years ago, the county decided to pull its corrections officers. They offered the city an agreement to house inmates from Euclid at the county jail. The city agreed to the arrangement and closed its jail.
“Currently what we’re spending would be is way less expensive than building and maintaining a full-service jail,” Meyer said.
But now as the county deals with COVID issues and overcrowding issues, the question is-- is the city of Euclid getting their money’s worth?
“Sometimes yes, and sometimes no,” Meyer said. Meyer wonders if COVID corrections facilities will ever go back to full, pre-covid ways and capacity, and he’s been hearing from his concerned community. “We execute a drug search warrant and then the neighbor sees the individual back at the house several hours later,” he said. “Well, it’s because there’s nowhere to take them. There’s nowhere to hold them. I understand that frustration.” That’s why he wants to reopen a jail in Euclid. Meyer says the best option is to knock this outdated building down and build a new jail with a pod style. “It’s quite expensive,” he said. But he wants the community and his council to consider the benefit the jail could bring. “I’m not advocating mass incarceration of low-level offenders. I understand that there has to be balance in the system, but there has to be balance for victims to and there has to be some balance for Law and Order,” Meyer said.