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New Lawsuit Alleges Abuse At ‘One Of The Worst’ County Jails In America

Officers at the Cuyahoga County Jail in Ohio are accused of pepper-spraying and assaulting a man for merely asking about his release date.

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown.

Nov. 27, 2017, was supposed to be the day Chariell Glaze walked out of Cuyahoga County Jail in Cleveland after having served his 90-day sentence for a probation violation. Instead, early that morning jail staff announced that the facility would undergo “red zoning,” a tactic meant to manage overcrowding and understaffing in which people are kept in their cells for up to 23 hours a day. 

Worried that red zoning could prevent his release, Glaze asked corrections officers to call the jail’s booking center. When those requests were denied, he asked to speak with a corporal.

Corporal Damien Bodeker visited Glaze’s cell. Glaze repeated his request to have officers call the booking center to confirm his release. But according to a lawsuit filed on Nov. 26 on Glaze’s behalf in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, Bodeker said, “I should dump you and spray you right now.” Bodeker then grabbed Glaze by the collar and emptied a can of pepper foam into Glaze’s face, causing him to cough and gasp for air. The canister was inches from Glaze’s face. 

Ashlie Sletvold, Glaze’s attorney, told The Appeal that when pepper foam is sprayed, it is released with such force that it can break the skin. Glaze suffered a broken tooth and multiple cuts to his face during the spraying and struggle. The pepper foam also seeped into his injuries. 

Glaze’s lawsuit is awaiting a response from Cuyahoga County. Officials from the county did not respond to The Appeal’s request for comment.

Jail officers in Cuyahoga County, which has a population of nearly 1.25 million people, have long faced allegations of abuse. In April, a county grand jury handed down an indictment against multiple officers and former warden Eric Ivey for charges including felonious assault and evidence tampering. Officer John Wilson was accused of striking an incarcerated person in the head and knocking his teeth out with such force that one tooth went into his nasal cavity. Ivey was charged with felony tampering with evidence for allegedly directing officers to turn off their body cameras during the assaults. Several officers were charged with felonious assault for pepper-spraying and hitting people they had placed in restraint chairs on different occasions.

Also in April, former officer Martin Devring was charged with evidence tampering, dereliction of duty and interfering with civil rights for failing to provide care to Joseph Arquillo, who overdosed and died in a jail cell within hours of being brought to the facility on Aug. 27, 2018.

At least nine people died at the Cuyahoga County jail since June 2018, including Nicholas Colbert, a 36-year-old Army National Guard veteran.

In May, Colbert was charged with drug possession and held on a $1,500 bond. He died by suicide within days of his arrest.

In November 2018, the U.S. Marshals Service issued a report describing the Cuyahoga County Jail as “one of the worst” in the country, and saying that it subjects incarcerated people to “inhumane” and often dangerous conditions.

“All of this mistreatment is just symptomatic of the general failure to treat these folks with a baseline of humanity,” Sletvold said. “It’s pretty devastating.”

After officers pepper-sprayed Glaze, he was placed in a restraint chair with his arms and legs immobilized, according to his lawsuit. While placing him in the chair, officers allegedly asked him “how hot is it” and joked that Bodeker “got you real good.” “It seems to be a form of torture,” Sletvold said. “That as soon as you get out the [pepper] spray, you get to tie this person up like an animal.”

As he gagged and gasped for air, Glaze spat on his shirt in an attempt to get out some of the pepper foam out of his mouth. Officers allegedly responded by placing a spit mask over Glaze’s head without properly removing the pepper foam from his face, elevating the effects of the foam. Spit masks can be deadly: In 2018, Dujuan Armstrong, 23, died of asphyxiation at the Santa Rita Jail in California after deputies restrained him with a device known as a WRAP and covered his head with a spit mask. On Dec. 4, Armstrong’s mother filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. “Applying the WRAP was a death trap,” her attorney said.

While in the restraint chair, Glaze asked officers if he could use the bathroom. The request was denied and he urinated on himself. Glaze sat in the chair for three hours soaked in pepper foam and urine as he pleaded to be released. The officers allegedly responded by saying “the more noise you make, the longer you’ll be in here.”

After Glaze was finally released from the chair, he was placed in a segregation cell but allegedly denied clean clothes, soap, or access to a shower. For three days, Glaze was left alone in a cell in his dirty clothes. Glaze was finally released from the jail on Dec. 7, 2017.

According to Glaze’s lawsuit, Cuyahoga County corrections officers post comments on Facebook about how they pepper spray and assault people in the jail. In May 2016, True Crime Daily posted an item about an “intervention” program that exposed young children to jail. The item featured a picture of a Black child wearing a striped jail uniform and asked “Do you think it goes too far?” In January 2019, one Cuyahoga County corrections officer wrote in response, “maybe I’m crazy but I don’t think it’s enough they need a chair and pepper spray.” Another officer posted a meme to Facebook featuring a photo of a pepper spray device that reads “I will now refer to pepper spray as people seasoning in my reports.” 

“There are so many ways this needs to be improved,” Sletvold said. “So that we are running a facility that is not inherently unconstitutional and violent.”