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Records: Ohio prison guards disciplined before inmate death

By FARNOUSH AMIRI Report for America/Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Three of the Ohio prison guards involved in the February death of inmate Michael McDaniel were previously disciplined for excessive use of force or not intervening when inmates were in danger or guards used unjustified force, records show.

The disciplinary documents, obtained by The Associated Press, show a number of past incidents where Lt. Bruce Brown and correctional officers Adam Causey and Jerry Perkins were reprimanded for actions similar to those made in connection with McDaniel’s in-custody death.

The three men were among the seven employees at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient who were fired last month after a state investigation into the death of the Black inmate found guards used unjustified force and a supervisor failed to intervene.

The Franklin County Coroner’s office had declared McDaniel’s death a homicide and ruled the cause as a “stress-induced sudden cardiac death.” The autopsy detailed injuries to his head, face, shoulders, wrists, hands, knees, feet, toes and abdomen. McDaniel also had multiple rib fractures, and the coroner found evidence of heart disease.

Security footage released by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction in July showed McDaniel, 55, collapsing on his own and being taken down to the floor by guards at least 16 times before he died Feb. 6.

Previous disciplinary records show Perkins was suspended in November 2017 after using excessive force on an inmate. He is also cited as failing to follow orders, administrative regulations and written or verbal directives from other staff during the incident.

In October 2020, Causey was demoted from his position as a lieutenant for failing to take action when informed by an officer that an inmate was threatening to kill himself. The disciplinary record states Causey did not follow the necessary protocols in accordance with the department’s suicide prevention policy by not advising officers in the housing unit to supervise the inmate or notifying the shift commander of the suicide risk.

In a statement, the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the union representing correctional officers, said it could not comment on previous disciplinary actions or the investigation surrounding McDaniel’s death as it is ongoing.

“It’s certainly a tragedy anytime someone dies, but everyone involved in this incident is entitled to their due process rights,” union President Chris Mabe said. “We shouldn’t get ahead of the facts.”

On the day of McDaniel’s death, Brown was the first supervisor on the scene. He oversaw Perkins, Causey and the other staff who interacted with the inmate.

“It was his responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone involved,” the report stated. But investigators determined Brown did not properly supervise or intervene during the various missteps guards and prison staff took throughout the incident, including allowing McDaniel to be escorted across the yard on a 28-degree day with no shoes or a coat, and in a ripped t-shirt.

When questioned by investigators about changing the method of the escort, Brown said he did not think about it at the time. “It was definitely on me as the scene supervisor,” to do so, he added.

A similar incident involving Brown took place when he was a site supervisor in October 2017 and a use of force incident took place between a prison guard and an inmate. The records state Brown did not properly communicate to staff and failed to recognize the inmate was “not coherent and could not understand the commands being given to him.”

He was also reprimanded for failing to ensure the inmate received proper medical evaluation and assessment after he was pepper-sprayed by staff. The report also states guards left the inmate’s cell without decontaminating it and removing “the feces from his body” and the walls of his cell.

An administrative grievance process as part of the union membership is underway for Causey and Perkins.

On Wednesday, Pickaway County Prosecutor Judy Wolford told The Columbus Dispatch she would not be bringing criminal charges against the staff involved.

“I have declined to take the case as I am unable to prove intent on the part of any of the (corrections officers) and/or nurses,” Wolford said in an email to the newspaper.

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.