Saturday, May 31, 2003

Pendleton Co. investigates inmate abuse at Grant jail

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH - Pendleton Fiscal Court has launched an independent inquiry into allegations of prisoner abuse at the Grant County jail.

"There is a lot of smoke," said Pendleton County Judge-executive Henry Bertram. "Is it a match burning or is it a bonfire? We don't know right now."

He said the investigation of the jail, which serves Grant and Pendleton counties, is to answer that question.

Bertram said his findings already indicate the jail made errors by not notifying Pendleton County officials when the county's inmates filed complaints about their care at the jail.

"Problems at the jail should have been reported to Pendleton County officials by numerous people," Bertram said. "That didn't happen" this time.

Grant County Jailer Steve Kellam, a former state trooper, has asked that all questions about jail misconduct be directed to his lawyer, Tom Nienaber, who couldn't be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Pendleton County has housed its prisoners in the Grant County jail since Pendleton County closed its jail in 2000. Grant County is paid $23 a day for each Pendleton County inmate, a fee set to increase to $25 on July 1.

At a fiscal court meeting Tuesday night, two magistrates reported they recently made an unannounced visit to the jail and found no problems.

"They didn't see anything they thought was alarming, but they didn't really know what to look for," Bertram said.

The entire Pendleton Fiscal Court will take the unprecedented step of convening a public meeting at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Grant County jail. Bertram said the magistrates would tour the facility and ask to interview Pendleton County inmates housed there.

This week, there were about 30 inmates from Pendleton County housed at the 304-bed jail.

Bertram has called six other jails in the area - including Campbell County - asking if they could take inmates from Pendleton County should Grant County jail prove to have a problem.

He said only Scott County had space.

"I don't understand why the state isn't taking a more serious look at it (Grant County jail)," said Bertram. "I'm not aware they (the corrections department) have taken any steps to look into the allegations."

The corrections department sent a letter to Bertram dated May 21 that said it had not received any letters or telephone calls from a current or former inmates of the Grant County jail complaining about physical mistreatment or abuse for the past two years.

"The Kentucky Department of Correction enforces jail standards, and jail standards relate primarily to the physical plant," said corrections department spokeswoman Lisa Lamb. "We do not investigate criminal actions that may have occurred in the jail. That is a role that is best served by law enforcement. We have neither the manpower, the ability or authority to take that role."

Lamb said Grant or Pendleton counties could request that state police investigate the jail.

An earlier investigation by state police detectives assigned to Post 6 in Dry Ridge resulted in the indictment of five inmates on assault and sodomy charges. The inmates are accused of attacking an 18-year-old held overnight for traffic violations.

A Grant County jury declined to indict any staff members of the jail as a result of that investigation.

Since March 27, four lawsuits have been filed in U.S. District Court in Covington against the jail.

Two suits claim prisoners were assaulted and sodomized by inmates. The other two claim inmates were beaten by guards for infractions such as spilling a cup of juice.

Pendleton County Attorney Don Wells, the first elected officials to publicly speak out against the jail, declined to indict a Falmouth businessman on a drunken driving charge after that defendant claimed in one of the suits that he had been beaten by guards.

"When there are allegations of this nature, we are normally one of the first entities to hear about it," Lamb said. "It is surprising to us that these allegations are being made and we haven't had them reported to us directly."


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