GALLIPOLIS — Inmate families and county officials surrounded by ongoing concerns with Gallia County Jail controversies recently spoke of those concerns to the Gallipolis Daily Tribune.
“There are a lot of details that, at this time, we are not able to release as it would be inappropriate based on the fact that we are still waiting for (Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation) to conclude their investigation,” said Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin to the Tribune. “At the appropriate time, once the investigation has concluded, we will be able to release those facts and answer further questions. I look forward to the completion of this investigation so the facts can be known and we can continue this dialogue in an informed and responsible manner. Many of the ‘facts’ that have been reported are not based in truth, but mere speculation, and this type of conversation is not beneficial.”
According to area Nurse Practitioner Sherry Russell, mother of deceased Gallia inmate David “Tommy” Gibson, 27, she had received information regarding the death of her son saying that he was supposed to be on drug withdrawal watch in an area where he could be viewed from the exterior of his cell. Instead, Gibson was reportedly closed in isolation, where he was found hung with a blanket on Sept. 14. His death was reported a suicide.
Gibson had reportedly abused meth and Suboxone. He was placed in the jail after his mother and wife reportedly filed domestic abuse complaints about him to law enforcement. Russell said his escalating bursts of violence, which she attributed to drug abuse, were what propelled her to call law enforcement. A criminal complaint gathered from Gallipolis Municipal Court records said that Gibson reportedly shoved his mother “on or about Sept. 5” after a confrontation in the living room of his residence.
Gibson’s mother has continued to state that her son should have been more frequently checked on during his reported withdrawal from drugs and she had been told that law enforcement was frequently checking on him before his death.
“I feel like we aren’t getting any answers from law enforcement,” said Russell. “I keep hearing the same story again and again about negligence in the jail and 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…My son will have not died in vain.”
Russell told the Tribune she has initiated ongoing conversations with the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the matter.
Another inmate, Josh Bessey, was reportedly sent to the Gallia Jail on a felony breaking and entering indictment in September roughly a week before a press conference was held on Sept. 29 by the Gallia Sheriff’s Office addressing jail controversies, including the escapes of four inmates (who were later recovered), the deaths of Gibson and another inmate who reportedly died Sept. 23 from overdose, Lacey Wolford, 35. Reportedly, while incarcerated Bessey had spoken up about the treatment of inmates, he said, and was told he needed to change his story. Bessey stated he was restrained in a chair and refused to change his statements and that he wanted a lawyer. According to Bessey, an officer then reportedly attempted to flip him in the restraint chair where his head struck an obstruction in the cell. Reportedly Bessey’s medical records show he had a skull fracture and bleeding in his head. He was sent to the the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Sept. 21.
“It just didn’t seem right to me,” said Bessey of his interactions in the jail. “They can’t do that.”
Records released by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation regarding the death investigation of Mark Simms, an inmate who died December 16, 2018, say that Simms had requested an ambulance due to stomach aneurysm issues two days prior to his death. Simms reportedly was a methamphetamine addict. He was denied a transfer to a medical facility the two days before, revealed investigation interview notes. Contained within the interviews detailing the incident, EMS reportedly took Simms’ vitals and said they were within normal limits but also recommended he be transported to an outside facility for medical observation on Dec. 14.
Simm’s autopsy report states that he died of a heart attack.
Mandee Roush, Simms’ former partner, said that after she had seen the investigation records that she felt “ill.” Roush and Simms shared a daughter. She said she believed Simms should have been taken by ambulance to a hospital before his death. Roush said she had been having conversations with the FBI as well. Reportedly Simms died while his grandmother was at the jail to post bond for him and to take him to the hospital. Gallia EMS was also contacted to assist Simms on the day of his death but was unable to revive him.
“There is no excuse for this kind of thing,” said Roush about Simms. “He didn’t deserve that. He had problems, but he didn’t deserve to die vomiting…”
Brenda Wolford, mother of Lacey Wolford, said inmates told her family they had repeatedly called for assistance for several minutes when Wolford became unconscious, Sept. 23, in the Gallia Jail. Reportedly, officers attempted to revive Lacey of an overdose but he was dead before officers could utilize Narcan on him. She said she still has yet to see her son’s autopsy report.
Ohio Bureau of Criminal investigation reports that it is investigating the jail and cannot speak to the nature of its investigation other than it is ongoing. The FBI told the Tribune that it cannot confirm or deny any investigations as per policy when asked if it was investigating. The Gallia Sheriff’s Office has directed any ongoing questions about jail investigations to Ohio BCI.
County officials have continually cited concerns with lack of funding, jail overcrowding, a nearly 70-year-old jail facility and the opioid epidemic as being a key issue in why the jail has had reports of violence and failed to meet state standards. Reports say the the Gallia Jail was found by Ohio State Jail Inspector Scott Filicky during the December 2018 inspection of the jail to be in noncompliance of 77 standards. Many of those standards could not be met “due to the layout and age of the jail.” Others referenced a lack of documentation for practices, policies or needing to update policies. One report passage referenced a lack of closed circuit television systems and noted that some inmates were sleeping on the floor on damaged mattresses. Jail inspections revealed the area was not “sprinklered” for fire protection and that the jail had failed to meet sanitation standards. Reports also indicated the jail did not have the ability to separate violent from nonviolent offenders.
“Some are calling for change and I could not agree with you more,” said Champlin during the Sept. 29 press conference. “I ran for sheriff for that exact change. The citizens of Gallia County were tired of being victimized at an alarming rate. I could not stand by and watch that happen. I’ve been in office for just over two-and-a-half years now. The jail problem is not a two-and-a-half-year-old problem. It’s a problem that’s existed for at least the last 15 to 20 years. After taking office, I quickly realized that our jail was outdated and insufficient to meet the needs and numbers and the types of criminals that we are currently housing…”
In 2017, the jail was found to be in noncompliance of 63 standards. Prior to Champlain taking office, in 2016 the jail was found to be in noncompliance of 86 standards; in 2015, the jail was found to be in noncompliance of 71 standards.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Bureau of Adult Detention told the Tribune in October that when asked about the Gallia Jail that “Historically, the jail will remain non-compliant and the Bureau of Adult Detention will act as a resource in bringing the jail up to standard.”
The institution has the ability to file an action in the Gallia Court of Common Pleas to “enjoin compliance with standards” said an ODRCBAD representative, but had not done so as of October.
“I’d have to make no comment on that particular situation because the operation of the jail is the sheriff’s responsibility and authority,” said Commissioner David Smith of families speaking to media about jail concerns. “I’d just reiterate we’re working as diligently as we can to replace the existing facility. My condolences go out (to the families). We’re all aware of what drug issues have done to our society. It’s not just Gallia County. It’s across the country and concentrated in rural areas.”
Gallia commissioners passed a quarter of a percent sales tax in January to address concerns with a growing inmate population, criminal justice costs and the need for a new jail. County officials are still in the midst of looking through conceptual jail designs for a facility that may be placed on Second Avenue next to the current Gallia Courthouse.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342.