Ninth Person Dies in Cuyahoga County Jail Since 2018

Nine people have died in less than a year while serving time in a jail in Cleveland, Ohio. The most recent death occurred on May 10. Cuyahoga County spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan told WJW-TV that Nicholas Colbert was arrested and brought to Cuyahoga County Jail on May 8 on drug possession charges. He had been moved to a special area in the jail specifically for veterans and was found unresponsive in his cell on May 10, according to the news station. Colbert, 36, was identified by and reportedly struggled with heroin addiction after leaving the National Guard a decade ago. The medical examiner ruled Colbert’s death as a suicide on May 11, the outlet stated.

Cuyahoga County Jail has come under fire for its poor conditions and the treatment of incarcerated people, according to Eight incarcerated people died at the facility in 2018; Colbert’s death marks the first death of 2019 and the ninth in less than a year. In December, seven incarcerated people filed a class action lawsuit against the jail citing “inhumane conditions,” according to a statement from the law firm Friedman & Gilbert.

The lawsuit, which was obtained by WEWS-TV, stated that incarcerated individuals "suffered both physical and psychological consequences resulting from these inexcusable conditions.” People incarcerated at the jail claim they were forced to live in inhumane conditions and had some of their basic civil liberties withheld as a form of punishment, according to the news station. In April,13 additional incarcerated people joined the lawsuit filed by Friedman & Gilbert as plaintiffs, previously reported.

“We are investigating these human rights violations and considering all options to force Cuyahoga County and jail administrators to take the necessary steps to immediately improve conditions in the jail, including through a federal Civil Rights lawsuit,” the statement from the law firm read. “It is clear that these deplorable conditions have been festering for years.”

Local Civil Rights organizations have spoken out about the recent death and demand that city officials acknowledge the problems inside of the jail. In a statement to The North Star, Black Lives Matter Cleveland called on to the community to protest against the conditions inside of the jail.

“It is absolutely appalling, and devastating to learn that yet another death has occurred inside the Cuyahoga County Jail. There is something critically wrong with our County Jail, and our criminal justice system; that when a nonviolent detainee is booked into our county jail they're immediately placed in what could be considered death row,” the statement from BLM Cleveland read. “This makes the ninth inmate death at the county, and until our city officials acknowledge that there are systemic issues in the ways in which our County Jail operates, and the current structure of our criminal justice system, these deaths will continue to happen.”

“It’s time for Clevelanders to raise a visible, and dramatic outcry to protest the continued foot-dragging by those who run the criminal justice system here,” the statement continued. A protest will be held on Thursday, May 23 and will be organized by the Coalition to Stop the Inhumanity at the Cuyahoga County Jail. The organization said in a statement to The North Star that the people of Cleveland would continue to fight for justice and hold city officials accountable.

“The media continues to expose disgusting and vicious guard-attacks on inmates, with seven guards and the Warden himself being indicted. Friday’s death, the latest lawsuit by 13 inmates, as well as testimony from a recently released inmate’s foul and unjust experience, all highlight the fact that things have not changed at the Jail,” Carol Steiner, member of the Jail Coalition and Puncture the Silence-Stop Mass Incarceration, told The North Star. “The people of Cleveland must pierce this callous indifference and demand accountability. This will be a large and strong action to show our determination to fight for justice.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.