Investigation continues in county jail overdoses

LISBON — The investigation is continuing into how drugs were smuggled into the Columbiana County Jail last month and used by three inmates to overdose.

The three inmates all lapsed into a semi-conscious state about 10 p.m. Oct. 21 after ingesting some drugs smuggled into the jail. The trio were taken by ambulance to the Salem Regional Medical Center, where they were treated and released. Upon their return, one of the inmates assaulted a corrections officer, who suffered a broken wrist.

County Sheriff Ray Stone said they have a suspect in mind based on inmate interviews and watching security video. “There will be charges. We’re still trying to find out who transported the drugs into the jail, but we think we know who did it,” he said.

One of the three inmates, Justin Temple, was charged after EMTs called to the scene discovered drugs on him. “We’re trying to find out if he’s the one. He was the one found in possession of the drugs but we’re trying to find out who smuggled it into the jail,” Stone said.

Searching inmates for contraband has become tougher since corrections officers are no longer allowed to perform male and female body cavity searches. Instead, Stone said they require inmates to squat and cough in the hopes that will eject whatever contraband is hidden in their body cavities. Often, inmates become ill if they cannot discharge the contraband from their body cavity, resulting in a trip to the hospital, which is when the drugs are found and charges result.

Stone said you would be surprised by what inmates are able to secret away inside their body cavities, items such as syringes filled with heroin, and cigarette lighters and spoons used to cook the drugs. He recalled one inmate rushed to a local emergency room after a syringe became stuck in her body cavity.

He would like to purchase a sophisticated full body X-ray machine to search for contraband, but they cost between $190,000 and $250,000 or more. “I understand the larger county  jails, like Cuyahoga County, have these, and they have eliminated 99 percent of their drug problem,” Stone said.

The sheriff’s office and county Drug Task Force perform periodic drug sweeps at the jail that involve searching inmate cells. “The last two we used two drug dogs. This isn’t new. We’ve being doing this a lot more since we got our own K-9 unit,” Stone.

The last drug sweep was conducted earlier this month and turned up heroin hidden under a mattress, while the drug dogs detected traces of drugs elsewhere.

Although the sheriff is in charge of the jail, it is actually operated by Community Education Centers Inc., a private firm hired by county commissioners to run the facility. Stone said it is his understanding the assistant warden resigned several days after the overdose incident and a retiree from the Ohio Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been hired to replace him.

“I think he’s going to help us tighten up procedures up there,” he said of the new assistant warden.

The jail has changed wardens three times in the past year. “There’s a restructuring of operations out there, and the CEC is being much more proactive,” said Commissioner Mike Halleck, who noted he met  with CEC officials following the drug overdose incident to let them know they were not pleased. “With the drug problem we have in this county and this country, we have to be more involved.”