Families of inmates who died, hurt at jail seek answers

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this Oct. 30, 2019, photo, Sherry Russell discusses the death of her son at the Gallia County Jail in southern Ohio at her medical care business in Rio Grande, Ohio. Russell wants to know how her son was able to commit suicide while kept in an isolation cell that was supposed to be under constant surveillance. (AP Photo/Mark Gillispie)

GALLIPOLIS, OH – Families of inmates who died or were seriously injured at a small Ohio county jail in the last year are seeking answers about what happened to their loved ones.

Records obtained by The Associated Press and interviews with former inmates and family members of deceased prisoners show evidence of uneven care and an overwhelmed staff.

“My goal is to change the policies that these people are dying over,” said Sherry Russell, the mother of David “Tommy” Gibson and an advocate for change at the jail. “My son will not have died in vain.”

The 27-year-old Gibson killed himself at the Gallia County Jail near the southern tip of Ohio despite being placed in an isolation cell where he was supposed to be under near constant surveillance.

For now, Russell must wait for the results of an investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation into her son’s death.

BCI would not confirm or deny what the agency is investigating. Russell said she has been interviewed by FBI agents.

The 70-year-old Gallia County Jail is in the basement of the county courthouse in the Ohio River community of Gallipolis, population 3,600. State inspections have outlined dozens of problems at the jail where four inmates overpowered two female corrections officers and escaped in September.

Gallia County, with a population of around 30,000, struggles like much of Appalachia with poverty, drugs and crime. It’s not uncommon for a jail with a capacity of 21 inmates to be packed with 50 or 60, with inmates handcuffed to chairs in a booking area or wherever else they can be secured, records and interviews show.