GALLIPOLIS — Three inmates allegedly overdosed on heroin in the Gallia County Jail last week and were transported to nearby Holzer Medical Center’s emergency room on Jackson Pike.
According to Gallia County Sheriff Joe Browning, the event was unusual as during the course of 2015, deputies booked 1,638 inmates without a similar incident occurring. Browning said that because of laws regarding inmate search and booking practices, it is possible that an inmate may have smuggled a syringe and an undisclosed amount of heroin into the jail via a body cavity.
The Gallia County Jail is a 22-bed facility.
Section 2933.32 (B)(2) of the Ohio Revised Code states, “A body cavity search or strip search may be conducted if a law enforcement officer or employee of a law enforcement agency has probable cause to believe that the person is concealing evidence of the commission of a criminal offense, including fruits or tools of a crime, contraband, or a deadly weapon, as defined in section 2923.11 of the Revised Code, that could not otherwise be discovered. In determining probable cause for purposes of this section, a law enforcement officer or employee of a law enforcement agency shall consider the nature of the offense with which the person to be searched is charged, the circumstances of the person’s arrest, and, if known, the prior conviction record of the person.”
‘The biggest problem we have is that when an inmate places something inside their body that can’t be seen by correctional staff on booking, it is an issue,” Browning said. “We do try to check on it and monitor the cell blocks as often as we can, but, ultimately, I think that in any correctional facility that’s one of the things they struggle with, whether it’s a county jail or state facility. You do see issues with that. We’re fortunate that we don’t have more issues than we do.”
Browning said while the investigation is still ongoing, deputies believe three inmates in the same cell block shared the same mechanism or syringe allegedly smuggled in by an individual to deliver the opioid that caused the three inmates to overdose.
“It used to be that everyone who came into the jail had to take a shower and change in front of the CO (correctional officer),” Browning said. “Well, now the law doesn’t really permit you to do that. You can change the inmate out of his clothing and into a uniform and visually inspect, but you can’t do a body cavity search without further probable cause.”
Browning has said that people can get “creative” when hiding contraband.
Browning said that even in correctional facilities with fixed cameras, inmates will often learn the positions of camera viewing fields and search for blind spots. He said the staff will routinely move camera positions at random intervals, as well as make trips into cell blocks. Browning also said that, due to budgetary limits, the county jail is typically staffed with two individuals who are also tasked with booking incoming inmates. Occasionally, a third deputy is added to watch inmates.
Deputies in the past have encountered people they believe were under the influence and will not accept the inmate into the jail facility until they have undergone medical inspection. In regard to this incident, deputies believe the drug may have been administered after booking.
According to Browning, two of the three inmates were taken to the emergency room and re-released into police custody. The third inmate reportedly inhaled his own vomit during the overdose episode and required the use of a ventilator while at the hospital. He has reportedly since been removed from the ventilator.
Deputies reportedly administered Nalaxone, also called Narcan, to the inmates during the overdose after discovering one lying on the floor during routine cell block inspection. Browning credits deputies with having saved the inmates’ lives.
Nalaxone is a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose from drugs such as morphine or heroin.
Browning said heroin can often be cut with other substances that may contribute to adverse reactions experienced by people that potentially use illicit narcotics.
Dean Wright can be reached at (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.