News: Jail Fight

Another beating at the Justice Center raises concerns

Lamar Miller, charged with felonious assault after a struggle with guards at the Hamilton County Justice Center, says he was the victim of their assault.

Guards at the Hamilton County Justice Center injured another mentally ill inmate three weeks ago, raising more questions about the diagnosis and treatment of prisoners.

Lamar Miller of North Avondale, 19, has been in jail since January on charges of drug possession and receiving stolen property. The arrest report from the Cincinnati Police Department notes that he has bipolar disorder.

On March 2, a fight broke out between Miller and several corrections officers.

"Miller voluntarily engaged Deputy Lee DeLoye in a physical altercation during which Deputy DeLoye received a serious laceration to the upper, right side of his scalp," says an incident report from the sheriff's office.

DeLoye received stitches and staples at Good Samaritan Hospital, according to the report. Miller was charged with two counts of felonious assault.

'I was beat so bad'
After the fight, a fellow inmate called Miller's mother, Bernadette Miller, to tell her about it. When she arrived at the Justice Center, she found her son in bad shape.

"He had dried-up blood coming out of his ear," she says. "He had gold teeth in his mouth and they had kicked those out.

The whole right side of his face was swollen up. His eyes were black, and his right eye was swollen closed."

In a telephone interview, Lamar Miller says the scuffle started during a uniform change after he jokingly asked DeLoye if he were racist.

"He grabbed me and started choking me," Miller says. "I couldn't breathe, so I grabbed him and tried to get him off me. About 15 officers came and kicked me and I was beat so bad I couldn't see out of one of my eyes."

Miller is now in lock-in as administrative punishment, he says.

"I know my son had to play a part in it," his mother says, "but not to be beat down like a dog."

Steve Barnett, spokesman for the sheriff's department, dismissed her concerns.

"Why is mama calling?" he asked. "We have scuffles all the time. This isn't anything new."

Miller's attorney, Bob Fiorenza, says he tried to take pictures of his client's injuries but the sheriff's department refused to let him.

"I went with my camera and they wouldn't let me in," he says. "I've never heard of that."

The sheriff's department took photographs and later gave them to Fiorenza.

The sheriff's department also refused to give CityBeat any use of force reports from the incident or the photographs of Miller's injuries, saying they're evidence in Miller's upcoming trial. Requests to speak with the officers involved in the fight were also turned down.

"They charged me for assault," Miller says. "I was the one that been assaulted."

The arrest form used by the sheriff's department asks if a suspect has any health problems or mental disorders. Miller's arrest form doesn't acknowledge that he has bipolar disorder.

Miller's mother says he has received anti-psychotic medicine through Social Security.

"He's been diagnosed with that since he was a child," she says.

Miller's case follows two incidents in February in which female inmates in the Justice Center's psychiatric ward received injuries in fights with guards (see "Jailed and Disturbed," issue of March 3-9). Sheriff's department investigations into both cases found that officers had used appropriate force.

Those cases alarmed Rosalyn Dadas, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) in Hamilton County. She spoke with Joseph Schmitz, director of corrections, about the Justice Center's treatment of mentally ill inmates. Schmitz agreed to attend one of NAMI's Forensic Support Group meetings to talk with prisoners' parents.

Dadas also contacted Schmitz concerning the Miller incident.

"He said the Lamar Miller incident happened when he was not on the psychiatric unit," she says. "He was placed in the psychiatric unit afterwards for an evaluation and was deemed not mentally ill and to be able to be in the general jail population."

'A pretty scary place'
Placing an inmate in the general population doesn't mean the sheriff's department considers the person to have no mental health issues, according to Gail Wright, counsel for the sheriff's office. She said she couldn't talk about Miller's medical records. But Miller says the Justice Center gives him Risperdal, an anti-psychotic medication.

Wright says inmates are screened when they're taken to the Justice Center.

"The screening is performed by a trained corrections officer," she says. "However, if key indicators are noted on the screening from the answer provided to the officer or from his observations, then a medical/mental health staff member is requested to come to intake and see the individual to determine a plan of care."

Outside sources are also taken into consideration in determining an inmate's mental health, Wright says. The most acutely ill are housed in a separate unit, she says.

"Each case is evaluated independently and a course of treatment is devised," she says. "Treatment in some cases may include medication."

Apparently, though, cases like Miller's don't qualify as "acutely ill." Miller's bipolar condition doesn't even exist, according to the sheriff department's incident report.

Dadas says bipolar disorder is a mental illness and probably should have been noted on the incident report. His condition needs to be addressed in a manner that keeps him and the officers safe, she says.

"The officers themselves may be in a very vulnerable position," Dadas says. "Someone in a manic phase could be quite strong and aggressive."

She says prisoners with mental disorders are also vulnerable, though.

"That's a pretty scary place to be and be mentally ill," she says.

So far this year the sheriff's department reports 67 uses of force at the Justice Center, where it houses about 2,100 inmates. As of March 19, the Justice Center housed 42 inmates in its mental health unit.

"Others who may have 'mental health problems' may be prescribed medications and assigned to the general population," says Edwin Boldt, counsel for the sheriff's office. "Others still may be determined to have 'mental health problems' but are not prescribed medications because their problems do not call for medication. They, too, would be assigned to the general population. Thus, there will be, at any given time, inmates who have, to use your term, mental health problems who are assigned throughout the Hamilton County justice system."

The sheriff's department says it doesn't keep count of patients with mental health issues, nor of the number of times force is used on mentally ill prisoners.

Miller's case continues at the Hamilton County Courthouse March 30. ©

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