Negotiator describes work to free hostage


Tribune Chronicle

WARREN – City police Lt. Jeff Cole shook his head and told news reporters on Thursday that he “absolutely” does not consider himself a hero for his role in talking three inmates down from an hours-long standoff at the Trumbull County Jail the previous night.

“What you do is what you’re trained to do,” Cole said. “This is something you train for. Hope it never happens. Unfortunately it happened yesterday.”

Cole and Trumbull County sheriff’s Deputy Valerie Hostutler were the first two negotiators to arrive soon after Kevin Johns, David Martin and Richard Ware took jail corrections officer Joe Lynn hostage just after 3 p.m. during routine rounds. The inmates held Lynn at knifepoint for about five hours inside the isolation pod they shared on the fourth floor. The ordeal ended around 8:30 p.m.

For Cole, the conclusion was an answer to his prayers.

“It was a long day, but at the end of it, everything ended calmly and no one was hurt. That’s the main thing. That’s the one thing you want for is for it to end safely,” he remarked.

Warren police Lt. Martin Gargas, one of the first officers on the scene, put a call out for a negotiator and Cole responded. He and Hostutler set up a room at the jail in which to communicate with the inmates to negotiate for Lynn’s safe release.

He said that as a lead investigator with Warren police detective’s division, he was familiar with the inmates, but until talking to them on Wednesday, he hadn’t dealt with any of them.

“I don’t think they knew me. I never investigated their cases personally. Part of the process involves gathering intelligence, information about them. I was familiar with their histories, but we hadn’t had any personal contact before this,” he said.

The inmates were armed with a homemade weapon when they captured Lynn just after a shift change inside the isolation pod where they were being held. Officials said Lynn was jumped by two of the inmates. They got his radio and handcuffs.

Cole, a state-certified negotiator and member of the Mahoning Valley Crisis Response Team, said he communicated with the men via telephone and a police radio. He spoke mostly to Martin, who seemed to be the leader, but also communicated with Johns, Ware and Lynn.

He said Lynn, who has worked at the jail about a year, remained calm and “did a fantastic job” throughout the ordeal.

Lynn was not available for comment on Thursday.

Officers and tactical teams from around the area and Cleveland were at the scene. The sheriff said some 100 officers responded. To keep anyone from coming into the pod, the inmates used wound-up sheets tied around a door handle to secure the door to the pod’s common area.

Cole said he could not disclose details about the conversation among himself and the inmates because the investigation is open.

Likewise, Trumbull County Sheriff Tom Altiere said he could not comment on what Cole said to the inmates, but credited him with diffusing the situation and getting everyone out of it safely.

“I wasn’t in the room with Lt. Cole. I didn’t hear everything that was going on, what they were saying to each other,” Altiere said. “I just know he was able to reason with them.”

During a news conference on Thursday, Altiere said agents from the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation were expected to visit the jail today and collect evidence from the pod, which was marked off as a crime scene.

Altiere noted that the inmates asked for cigarettes and they were each given one. He said all three inmates were transported to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown.

The motive is not yet clear, but Altiere said that it is believed that it was not a random occurrence and that the event had been planned.

Corrections officers are not armed. Officers make routine rounds alone every 30 minutes inside the pods. Another officer monitors security screens at a central location.

Johns was sentenced on April 18 to 28 years behind bars for raping a local woman and kidnapping another woman about a year ago.

Ware has three different aggravated robbery cases pending in Trumbull Common Pleas court.

Martin is accused of killing 21-year-old Jeremy Cole and wounding Melissa Putnam on Sept. 27, 2012, at a home on Oak Circle S.W. His trial was to begin this month but was rescheduled for Aug. 27 so that Martin could undergo a competency test.

Martin could face the death penalty if convicted of the aggravated murder charge.

Cole, who said he never before experienced a scenario like the one he faced on Wednesday, explained that the longer a negotiation takes, the better.

“Time is on your side,” he said.

Still, he noted that, for him, time was never a real factor.

“You’re in that moment, dealing with what’s going on right there. You choose your words very carefully based on your training and the situation. Every situation is different. There were a lot of people who worked and helped us get to the outcome we had. A lot of people were working toward a peaceful solution. Fortunately, the right words were used (Wednesday) and everything ended calmly,” Cole said.

Cole said there wasn’t anything heroic about his words or actions.

“It was just about having compassion for the officer and the situation, getting him, the other officers and the inmates out of this situation. It was a grateful feeling when it was over. I’m just very grateful it’s over and that it ended the way it did.”