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Former Warden Testifies For Defense In Trial Of Ex-Jail Chief Ken Mills

Former Cuyahoga County Jail Warden Eric Ivey (left) shown here in screen shot taken during court hearing in 2019. [WKYC]
photo of eric ivey

Attorneys for former Cuyahoga County Jail director Ken Mills called only two witnesses before closing their case Wednesday. Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday morning, then the case will be in the jury’s hands.

Mills is accused of dereliction of duty for allegedly allowing conditions at the jail to deteriorate in 2017 and 2018 and for allegedly lying to county council about his role and level of authority.

The two witnesses called by the defense, former jail warden Eric Ivey and former jail employee Martha Newman, both testified that Mills was part of a team of administrators and did not make decisions at the jail on his own.

“I would try to tour the jails, I would make policies,” Ivey said. “I would be responsible for day-to-day operations of the jail.”

Mills was Ivey’s supervisor, but Ivey said he was involved in several decisions for which prosecutors faulted Mills. Those decisions included moving the medical department from the jail's arrival area up to the 7th floor.

“I was not aware of any opposition to that move,” Ivey said.

Earlier in the trial, former MetroHealth employee and jail nursing supervisor at the jail Gary Brack said the move to the 7th floor happened without his knowledge and he would have opposed it.

Ivey also challenged the prosecution’s allegations that conditions at the jail declined dramatically after the city of Cleveland turned its jail operations over to Cuyahoga County in 2018. He testified that issues at the jail, like overcrowding and extended confinement in cells in response to staffing shortages, had occurred throughout his 29 years at the jail.

“It was a jail, to me. It wasn’t nasty,” Mills said. “We tried to keep it clean. I wouldn’t say it was like a nasty, filthy place.”

In earlier testimony for the prosecution, state jail inspector Joel Commins described the jail as a “disaster” beginning with his 2018 inspection. A report from the U.S. Marshals service, released before the state’s 2018 inspection, described conditions in the jail as inhumane and dangerous.

Prosecutors brought up Ivey’s 2019 guilty plea for obstruction of justice to question his reliability as a witness. Ivey told guards to turn off their body cameras while responding to a 2018 overdose death at the jail, then lied about it to investigators.

Ivey had agreed to cooperate with investigators as part of his plea deal but was only called on to testify by the defense.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.