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Jury Convicts Former Cuyahoga County Jail Director On 4 Of 5 Charges

Ken Mills standing with attorneys after guilty verdict is read. [Matthew Richmond / Ideastream Public Media]
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Former Cuyahoga County Jail Director Ken Mills has been found guilty of four of the five charges against him. After about a day of deliberations, the jury found Mills not guilty on the one felony charge he faced, tampering with records, and guilty on two charges of falsification and two charges of dereliction of duty.

Mills was released until sentencing Oct. 8.

Mills is the only high-ranking county official whose case went in front of a jury in the aftermath of prisoner deaths at the county jail and a 2018 report by the U.S. Marshals Service that made public inhumane, dangerous conditions at the jail.

“This is a case, ultimately, about failure. One man’s failure at his job,” Assistant Ohio Attorney General Matthew Meyer said during closing arguments Thursday. “That failure had tremendous consequences for this community, for the inmates who were housed in that jail, for those corrections officers who were serving time along with those inmates in those terrible conditions.”

Mills was indicted on two counts of dereliction of duty directly related to his role as Director of Regional Corrections for Cuyahoga County. Mills oversaw the three jails run by the county, downtown, Bedford Heights and Euclid. Those are both misdemeanor charges.

A key dispute during the trial was Mills’ level of responsibility for overcrowding and the medical care at the downtown jail during a time when eight people died there.

The sheriff and sheriff’s chief deputy were both Mills’ superiors on the county’s organizational chart. The sheriff is an appointed position in Cuyahoga County and reports to the county executive.

Former Sheriff Cliff Pinkney signed a cooperation agreement with prosecutors and testified against Mills, saying he was sidelined as sheriff.

“The entire time I was sheriff I never felt like I was sheriff,” Pinkney testified. “I was always felt like I wasn’t respected as sheriff because of things like that.”

He said Mills went around him on staffing decisions and spoke directly with County Executive Armond Budish and former county budget director Maggie Keenan. Budish was never called to testify, despite being on the prosecution list of potential witnesses, and has not been charged with any crimes.

“The person responsible, ultimately, is the sheriff,” said defense attorney Kevin Spellacy during closing arguments. “As much as they want to run from him, call him a paper sheriff, the Ohio Revised Code gives him certain responsibility and that responsibility is to run the jail. This is about shifting blame, instead of owning the blame.”

The three other counts, felony tampering with records and two falsifying charges, were the result of Mills’ testimony at a May 22, 2018 Cuyahoga County Council meeting.

During that meeting, Mills told council he had no authority over hiring nurses for the jails. During the trial, prosecutors introduced e-mails from Mills to budget director Maggie Keenan blocking a request for two nurses at the Euclid jail signed by Sheriff Pinkney.

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