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Cuyahoga County Jail guard said inmates served on broken food trays that ‘smelled like sewer water or feces’

July 30, 2018

Cuyahoga County Jail guard said inmates served on broken food trays that ‘smelled like sewer water or feces’

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A Cuyahoga County jail guard formally complained in 2017 that staff members served inmates food on broken trays that smelled like sewer water, according to court records.

Corrections officer Jose Quintana wrote in a report dated Nov. 24, 2017 that inmates in the jail got sick after eating off of the trays that cracked and leaked a dark liquid that smelled “like sewer water or feces.” He said the problem persisted for close to nine months before he made the complaint.

“This is a health and safety issue for the inmate which makes my pod a hostile working area because inmates are tired of being served with these damaged and rotten smelling trays,” Quintana wrote.

The report was attached to an amended complaint filed on Monday by lawyers for a former inmate suing the county’s head of corrections, Ken Mills, and the jail’s warden Eric Ivey, for damages in excess of $75,000.

That inmate, Cecil Fluker, says in the lawsuit that he got sick from drinking contaminated water in the jail, was exposed to black mold on dining trays and that jail officials deliberately ignored, hid or destroyed evidence that would corroborate other inmates’ complaints of inadequate and substandard conditions in the jail. 

David Malik and Sara Gedeon, lawyers representing Fluker, filed the suit in early July. 

Malik declined to comment beyond what was included in the complaint. Eliza Wing, a county spokeswoman, did not immediately return a request for comment.

In Monday’s filing, Fluker’s lawyers included Quintana’s complaint, as well as a Sept. 11 complaint from another jail guard who said inmates were served rotten and slimy carrots that were nine days past the expiration date. Officer Frank Hocker also noted that some of the jail’s trays are “cracked and stink and the inmates refuse to eat,” according to the report.

Hocker wrote that he and other officers tried to voice their concerns with jail staff, but to no avail. On the space where Hocker’s supervisor was supposed to sign his complaint, the document says “refused to sign.”

Fluker wrote in a Sept. 19 letter addressed to Sheriff Clifford Pinkney that he threw up blood after he was served on a food tray that had black mold on it.

Letters from two other inmates -- Eric Norton and Clarence Bogan -- claimed that they were also served food on cracked and smelly trays while they were housed in the jail last fall. 

Fluker went to a nurse in the jail’s infirmary in September because the jail’s water, which he said came out brown at first and then black, made him ill, according to the suit. Fluker also told the nurse that he saw black mold on food trays, the lawsuit says.

Jail staff told Fluker that the discoloring was likely due to some maintenance that was done on the building’s water pipes. Fluker was treated with Zofran and Imodium and was charged for going to the medical clinic, the suit says.

Malik obtained a water sample from the jail on Oct. 5 and had it tested. While it was not an “ideal sample,” a test performed Oct. 6 showed the water contained Coliform bacteria, which can make a person sick if they ingest it from drinking water, according to an Oct. 12 court filing.

The county ran its own test of the jail’s drinking water in late October and said the results came back negative.

Fluker’s lawsuit says the jail is “poorly operated and managed” and that both corrections and medical staff are not treated well. Those who speak up about conditions face retaliation, the suit says.

The lawsuit comes after months of controversy surrounding the jail.

Former medical supervisor Marcus Harris left his job earlier this year for a similar position on the west coast and blasted Mills in a letter to Cuyahoga County Council. The letter characterized Mills’ oversight of the jail as “mismanagement” that deprived inmates of proper medical care and endangered the safety of both inmates and staff.

Harris told cleveland.com in an interview that his attempts to shine a light on the jail’s problems were met with resistance. 

Gary Brack, MetroHealth’s former Interim Director of Ambulatory Care at the jail, was removed from his position after publicly airing his concerns about Mills at a May council committee meeting. 

Mary Louise Madigan, a county spokeswoman, has previously declined to respond to Harris’s claims, which she said could be a “difference of personality,” and said that Brack was removed due to a lack of trust between him and jail staff. She pointed out that Cuyahoga County jails are fully compliant with state guidelines and have exceeded or met expectations in recent annual jail inspections.

To comment on this story, please visit Monday’s crime and courts comments page.

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