Cleveland officials were investigating after an inmate was recently found dead in the city’s county jail. It was the ninth inmate death in the past year, which has family members demanding answers. On Friday, a 36-year-old military veteran Nicholas Colbert was pronounced dead at the Cuyahoga County Jail only having been there since Wednesday.
“I expected to lose him out there, but I didn’t expect to lose him in jail,” Colbert’s mother Laura Colbert said. “It was the one place I wanted him to be so he could be alive.”
According to Cleveland.com, he underwent medical screenings the same day he was arrested and was placed in general population, but on Monday the medical examiner confirmed Colbert died from suicide/hanging. Now his death has added to an already disturbing trend.
In 2018 alone, eight inmates died in Cuyahoga County, four were considered suicides, three were considered drug overdoses and one was from cancer. A formal investigation has been launched regarding one of deaths. Two corrections officers have been charged in the death of Joseph Arquillo, who died from a drug overdose. They are accused of ignoring his calls for help as he laid dying in his cell.
Another corrections officer, Stephen Thomas, was arrested last week and has been charged with belonging to a drug and contraband smuggling network that is linked to a drug overdose in the jail. He appeared in court on Monday.
Following the suspicious deaths, MetroHealth Hospital officials, who are in charge of medical operations at the jail pleaded to the U.S. Marshals to look into the jail. And in November, U.S. Marshals reported “inhumane” conditions at the jail and a criminal investigation was launched by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office into civil rights violations. Cleveland.com also reports that this investigation brought about several indictments, which include the former jail director Ken Mills and former warden, now an associate warden, Eric Ivey, who is also charged in Arquillo’s death, along with seven corrections officers accused of various crimes, including attacking inmates strapped to restraint chairs.
“It really is a horrible situation over there,” longtime Cleveland attorney Terry Gilbert told Fox 8 on Friday. “This is extraordinary to have nine deaths in the last year for a county this size, it’s almost like an epidemic,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of current and former inmates of the jail in December to challenge “inhumane, dangerous and unconstitutional conditions.”
A Cleveland Municipal Judge also decided to take action regarding what has been happening at the jail. According to Cleveland.com, Judge Michael Nelson called for a consent decree that would enjoin the county in a mandatory reform agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice with the oversight of a federal judge. After the sixth death last year, Nelson set personal bonds to people that walked into his courtroom to prevent them from being subjected to the conditions of the jail.
This situation is one of several incidents of inmates dying in custody, particularly Black inmates. Sandra Bland died in a Texas jail in 2015 and became one of the most profile cases. Bland’s death was ruled a suicide under suspicious circumstances. Recently released video of her encounter with the police officer who arrested her has raised questions, but so far, no one has been indicted in her death. Another inmate died in the same jail months later.