Summit County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Ivey saw the punch coming at the last second — just before it landed on his cheek, sending him and the inmate who clocked him to the ground.
Ivey had been checking a possible malfunctioning lock on a cell door just before midnight in the mental health unit at the Summit County Jail when the inmate inside charged.
The deputy, with the inmate on top of him swinging both fists, called over and over for help.
But there was no backup around and Ivey’s radio had been knocked away, meaning he was fighting for his life.
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Ivey was saved after another inmate hit an emergency call button several minutes into the fight and other deputies rushed to his aid.
“We’re just way outnumbered,” said Ivey, 33, who suffered two black eyes, a deviated septum and a back injury in the struggle. “There’s no one to respond to help.”
Sheriff’s officials say the incident, which took place two weeks ago, illustrates how dangerous the jail has become since the county significantly reduced staffing because of budget cuts. Before those cutbacks, there would have been another deputy watching Ivey’s back, Sheriff Steve Barry said.
It also shows how big a headache — and legal liability — the jail is becoming for the county. This week, the county must file a report as part of a federal lawsuit involving female deputies detailing how it will improve working conditions at the facility.
A state jail inspector also slapped the county earlier this year for multiple, serious violations.
Sheriff’s officials, frontline workers and a state jail inspector point to low staffing as the cause of the troubles.
The jail, located on East Crosier Street in Akron, opened in 1990. Five years later, an addition was built to house more inmates.
Today, the facility holds more than 600 people each day, including violent felons such as murderers. The county also operates a minimum-security facility, Glenwood Jail, in Akron.
A state inspection completed earlier this year showed the Summit County Jail violates many minimum standards. Those include the facility holding too many prisoners, inmates not being booked in a timely manner and no recreation time being offered.
And the state isn’t alone in citing issues with the way the county operates the jail.
As part of a consent decree in the federal lawsuit backed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the county is working with a national jail staffing expert to address ongoing problems.
The county must provide a report detailing its plan to the plaintiffs’ attorney and the Department of Justice by Thursday.
Barry and Jason Dodson, chief of staff for County Executive Russ Pry, declined to comment on the report, citing the court case.
A draft copy the Akron Beacon Journal obtained contains more than 120 pages of analysis, recommendations and charts. Consultant Rod Miller of Community Resource Services in Gettysburg, Pa., noted that the jail operates with 43.9 fewer full-time supervisors, deputies and civilian workers than in 2009.
Back then, there were 181 deputies working at the facility. There are 161 today.
The draft outlines numerous problems, such as a lack of inmate programming, no recreation time, too many lockdowns, inmates using cots and poor jail design. It also discusses everything from ways to improve scheduling to such statistics as when the most inmates arrive (from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
It’s unclear exactly what the county will recommend, but options include hiring more workers, altering the way it supervises inmates and shutting down portions of the facility.
This isn’t the first time the county has been under a federal consent decree for its jail. The facility was built because of poor conditions and overcrowding at the former jail in downtown Akron.
Aside from legal issues, the jail also has become a money pit because of skyrocketing overtime.
With so few workers, deputies are unable to take vacations and often are required to stay after their shifts were scheduled to end. An injury or illness can throw off an entire shift.
Jail overtime totaled $180,765 in 2011. It climbed to $313,765 last year, and through Sept. 19 of this year had reached $277,520.
Ivey, the deputy who was attacked, remains off work because of his back injury. The inmate suffered only a small cut near his eye, officials said, and was charged with assaulting a peace officer.
Ivey knows that his absence adds to the workload for his colleagues.
“I’m off on an injury and I feel bad for my co-workers,” he said.
Jail workers accumulated 160 hours of overtime on one recent weekend, sheriff’s spokesman Bill Holland said.
During a recent tour, jail Administrator Greg Macko, a former Barberton Municipal Court judge, showed a backlog of people waiting to be booked.
There aren’t enough workers available to process them quickly, he said.
While he was talking, Akron police brought back about 10 inmates from court. As they stood in a line, their handcuffs were removed.
The police left, and the inmates stood unattended in front of the holding cells. Eventually, two deputies came over from another section of the room to place them inside their cells.
Reduced staffing also led to a rule that went into effect last week limiting clergy and attorney visits during certain hours.
There also are fewer shakedowns. When there are, deputies find more homemade weapons, Barry said.
Supervisors, deputies and civilian workers aren’t happy, and morale is low, the sheriff and others who work at the jail said.
“But we understand that there’s no money to press the issue,” said Lt. John Peake, the head of the supervisors union.
The public must realize that it’s not only the jail that is affected, he added.
For example, the county used to have seven employees dedicated to keeping an eye on sex offenders, Peake said, but that responsibility is down to a single deputy.
Earlier this year, Barry started advocating for a public safety levy that would allow him to hire more workers. There has been no public discussion of the idea since he brought it up.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.