Federal authorities have determined after four years that there is insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges in connection with the 2006 death of an inmate at the Summit County Jail.
Steven M. Dettelbach, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, issued a statement from his Cleveland office Friday, saying an “exhaustive and independent” federal investigation into the death of an Akron man, Mark D. McCullaugh Jr., failed to uncover any federal or criminal civil rights violations.
McCullaugh, 28, died Aug. 20, 2006, after a violent struggle with deputies in his cell in the jail’s mental health unit.
The federal probe, which began in May 2009, is now closed, Dettelbach said.
Former Summit County Sheriff Drew Alexander, who stood firm from the outset of the case that jail deputies “acted appropriately” in dealing with McCullaugh, said he was not surprised by the outcome of the FBI probe.
“I guess my only surprise is that it took the Department of Justice so long.”
Alexander said the duration of the investigation undoubtedly weighed upon the involved deputies. “But now they can get on with their lives,” he said, “and not worry about this coming back to haunt them more than it already has.
“I’m relieved for them, and I’m relieved for the agency that this is no longer a burden hanging over their heads. There was a lot to be learned on this case, and I think now the Summit County Sheriff’s Office is a better office, in training and protecting the deputies, to make sure there’s not a repeat of this.”
Autopsy findings showed McCullaugh was 6-foot-2 and weighed 306 pounds. He was arrested and taken to the jail, according to police records, after a confrontation in which he head-butted an Akron officer trying to get him under control on a city street.
The county medical examiner determined McCullaugh’s cause of death was asphyxiation from blunt-force blows and various forms of physical, electrical and chemical restraints. He was beaten, shot with a Taser and hit with pepper spray during the struggle.
Five deputies, one of whom faced a single count of murder, subsequently were indicted in connection with the death.
All five were later cleared of any wrongdoing in the state’s criminal case.
In 2009, an insurance company representing the county settled a wrongful death civil suit filed by McCullaugh’s estate for $862,500.
His mother, Jennifer L. Fox of Akron, said she and other family members were disappointed with the federal investigation’s outcome because “there was no justice done.”
Fox said she learned of the decision Thursday in a meeting with authorities at the FBI office in Akron. Her father, another son and McCullaugh’s ex-wife attended with her, she said.
Fox said she couldn’t care less about the monetary settlement in the case. Relieving the deputies from their duties in law enforcement, she said, “was my main thing, so they couldn’t do this to anyone else.”
She always believed her son was murdered, she said, and as the years went by, the long FBI investigation was the family’s “last chance to get some kind of justice.”
“There was a lot of wrongdoing in this case,” Fox said. “Unfortunately, we will never see any justice as far as this case goes, but like I told them at the meeting [Thursday], we have to turn it over and put it in God’s hands now because we’ve exhausted every chance in the legal system.”
Alexander said the case brought about changes for the good.
A training program in critical incidents and cell extraction techniques, he said, has helped deputies come to a better understanding of inmates with mental health issues. It began shortly before McCullaugh’s 2006 death and since then, he said, about 90 percent of the agency’s deputies have received training in it.
In cases of unruly inmates, Alexander said, it now is agency policy for deputies to dress in biohazard suits and have a supervisor present, using a video camera, before entering a cell to make an extraction.
“When they go in now, they’re much more prepared,” he said. “It was undoubtedly helter-skelter with Mark McCullaugh, with officers running and trying to stop [things], and it went downhill from there.”
Today, Alexander said, “you never want to say never, but with the training and policies now, I don’t think that situation should ever happen again.”
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.