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Lawsuits & Litigation

Ohio’s Troubled Gallia County Jail Facing Two New Lawsuits

— August 2, 2020

Ohio’s Gallia County jail is facing two separate lawsuits, both filed in federal court.

According to The Associated Press, Gallia County Jail—located in Ohio’s southern tip—has come under intense scrutiny in the past several years. Four inmates escaped from the facility in 2019, while other prisoners and their family members have complained of regular mistreatment.

One of the two lawsuits, says the A.P., was filed last month by the ex-wife of a man who died in December of 2018. In her complaint, the woman claims that corrections officers and sheriff’s deputies ignored her ex-husband’s pleas for medical attention. Despite being recommended for a hospital transfer by in-house emergency technicians, the man was denied further treatment and passed away shortly afterward.

The second lawsuit was filed by Debra Smith, a female corrections officer who was injured in the 2019 escape attempt. Smith claims that Gallia County Sheriff Matt Champlin, along with other corrections staff, regularly failed to adhere to the facility’s safety policies.

Image via Pexels/Pixabay. (CCA-BY-0.0)

Because of Champlin’s alleged negligence, Smith was attacked in the 2019 escape attempt, when the four inmates overpowered her.

Smith’s lawsuit notes that she, along with another female guard, were the only two corrections officers present the night of the escape attempt. That is despite a Gallia County Jail policy mandating that female guards only be assigned female inmates.

Champlin has since admitted that the jail—located in the basement of the Gallia County courthouse—has had problems for years.

Nevertheless, Andrew Yosowitz—an attorney both for Champlin and the county itself—said he does not believe an inmate-instigated assault should entitle Smith to damages.

“While we continue to support Debra Smith, we disagree, however, that the inmates’ decision to assault Ms. Smith” entitles her to recompense, Yosowitz said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press earlier this week.

The Gallipolis Daily Tribune notes that the county jail and its administrators have received extensive criticism in the past several years. In November, another inmate—identified as David “Tommy” Gibson, 27—committed suicide in his cell.

Gibson, at the time of his death, was supposed to be on drug withdrawal watch. While jail policy dictates that inmates on withdrawal watch be placed in an easily observable cell, Gibson was allegedly locked in isolation, where he took his own life.

Gibson’s mother, Sherry Russell, told the Gallipolis Daily Tribune that corrections staff were not cooperative after informing her of her son’s death.

“I feel like we aren’t getting any answers from law enforcement,” she said. “I keep hearing the same story again and again, about negligence in the jail and [that] we need to change it. You can build a new jail—and we do need a new jail.

“But we need to manage what we have now effectively,” Russell added. “My son will not have died in vain.”


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