Cleveland Judge Says He'll Stop Sending People to Jail After 6 Inmates Die in 4 Months

Headlines like this are appallingly common.


Jim Mahoney/MCT/Newscom

A Cleveland judge says he will stop sending people to Cuyahoga County Jail, except in serious cases, after another inmate died while in custody—the sixth such death in four months.

Cleveland Municipal Judge Michael Nelson told the local news outlet cleveland.com he would stop requiring defendants accused of nonviolent crimes to post bonds. He plans to meet with jail officials to figure out what is going on.

The latest inmate to die in custody, Allan Martin Gomez, 44, died four days after being booked into the county jail on minor drug charges, cleveland.com reports:

He was arrested Friday on a warrant issued months ago. He was charged with fifth-degree felony cocaine possession, meaning Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority police accused him of possessing less than five grams of the drug.

Gomez was taken to MetroHealth sometime after his arraignment in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Judge Kathleen Ann Sutula set his bond at $1,500, meaning he only needed to post $150 to be released…

Gomez's death marks the sixth county inmate to die while being incarcerated since June 22. Two inmates hanged themselves and two had drugs in their system when they died. The medical examiner has not yet determined the cause of deaths for a man who died in the county-run Euclid jail and Gomez.

The spate of deaths in Cleveland is the most recent example of an ongoing national crisis.

The 2015 death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail after she was arrested during a traffic stop provoked a national discussion on policing, bail, and the use of jails. A Huffington Post investigation found that 815 people died in jails across the country the year following Bland's death.

The headlines are appallingly common. The Charlotte Observer reported yesterday that North Carolina is investigating Mecklenburg County jails after five deaths in five months.

Here's a headline from yesterday's Lake County News-Sun in Illinois: "Video Related to Lake County Jail Inmate Death Shows Guards Standing Around, Not Giving Aid."

On Monday, the Wayne County, Michigan, prosecutor announced charges against a police sergeant and two paramedics in the case of a jail inmate who died while convulsing on the floor of his cell and begging for help.

In 2016, The Oregonian reported on the case of a woman who died after spending seven days going through agonizing heroin withdrawal while her requests for medical attention were ignored.

A December 2016 Florida Sun Sentinel investigation, "Death on Their Watch," found that a private company paid to handle jail health care had failed to protect Broward County inmates endangered by their mental illnesses, leading to seven deaths: "A review of thousands of pages of court, medical and jail records showed that seven Broward inmates since 2010 killed themselves or suffered dramatic weight loss while they were held alone in cells, despite long-standing concerns about the impact of isolation on people with mental illnesses."

The easiest solution to this problem, to which Judge Nelson has resorted, is not to put people charged with petty crimes—who are, after all, presumed innocent—in jail simply because they cannot afford to post bail. For more on that subject, read Reason's Scott Shackford on the national push to reform bail practices.