Plaintiffs ask that jail overcrowding suit be dismissed

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit to address overcrowding and other problems in the Montgomery County jail have asked a federal judge to dismiss the suit.

In their motion to dismiss, plaintiffs in the case cited what they said was Montgomery County’s “commitment to invest significant funds in facility improvements with a goal of meeting current detention standards set by accrediting agencies.”

They wrote of other improvements at the jail, saying the grievance process there has been “completely revised,” that intercom, surveillance and lock upgrades have improved inmate safety and that the “average inmate population” numbers at the jail have fallen from 950 a day to just over 700 daily.

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“Plaintiffs’ counsel are appreciative of these good faith efforts to address the issues that gave rise to the litigation they have placed before this court,” the plaintiffs’ Aug. 1 filing says. “We are hopeful that the spur of litigation will not be necessary to assure positive progress in these efforts.”

At least 14 lawsuits alleging the mistreatment of inmates at the jail have been filed in recent years.

This lawsuit was first filed in July 2018, aiming at what it said were problems with jail overcrowding, punishment of inmates, grievances, and health and safety concerns.

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Filed by named plaintiffs Nicholas Alston and Keith Barber, among others, this lawsuit cited a November 2016 jail inspection report that said the recommended inmate population is 443 but that 791 people were being housed. Former Sheriff Phil Plummer, now a state representative, last summer said the jail then had 910 beds, of which 130 had been going empty more recently.

Since a hearing in December 2018, attorneys for the plaintiffs said they have met with U.S. District court officials and others in a bid to address the problems.

“The courts are assisting in the effort to reduce the overcrowding conditions which are a significant root cause of many of the recognized problems at the jail,” the filing to dismiss states. “Seventy percent of the jail population continues to consist of individuals who are simply awaiting trail or disposition of the charges against them.”

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The filing calls today’s climate “positive,” and adds: “This lawsuit appears for the time being to have served the goals sought by the individual plaintiffs.”

A message seeking comment was left with Plummer, R-Dayton, who now represents Ohio’s 40th House district. Plummer was the lone defendant in the suit.

Dayton attorney Lawrence Gregor, who represented the plaintiffs, declined to comment Thursday. Messages were also left with David Greer, also an attorney for the plaintiffs, and current Sheriff Rob Streck.

Montgomery County Commissioner Judy Dodge, in a prepared statement, said: “We called for the Justice Committee to be formed several years ago because we had concerns about the operation of the jail and we were facing several lawsuits. Since that committee was created in March 2017, we have been steadily working to improve jail operations and we will continue to do so.

“We are pleased to see the plaintiffs move to voluntarily dismiss this lawsuit as a result of the significant steps we have already taken to improve jail facilities and operations. This has been a team effort, and we thank the Justice Committee co-chairs, Rabbi Bernard Barsky and Dr. Gary LeRoy, as well as the Honorable Judge Rice, Sheriff Rob Streck, and community advocates for their involvement in this process.”

The county passed a sales tax increase last year, part of which is meant to fund improvements in jail operations and infrastructure.

The jail, built 65 years ago, is currently in the design phase of a project to renovate the first floor, including the intake and medical ward.

The jail facility master plan, which will include a plan to address the short and long-term needs of the County Jail, is scheduled for completion in February 2020.

In August 2018, county commissioners approved spending $100,000 on outside legal counsel to defend Plummer in the case. At that time, costs to the county and its insurers to defend against this and similar lawsuits had been expected to reach $10 million or more.

On the court docket, the motion to dismiss is the case’s most recent filing. No response or ruling from Judge Walter Rice was seen on the docket as of midday Thursday.

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