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Inmate Dies After Altercation At Cuyahoga County Jail

The Cuyahoga County Justice Center complex in 2014. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
The Cuyahoga County Justice Center complex in 2014.

A fight between two inmates Monday led to an inmate death at the Cuyahoga County Jail.

The incident is under investigation by county officials and the Cleveland Division of Police Homicide Unit.

A corrections officer was alerted to the altercation after hearing inmates calling for help, according to a statement from the Cleveland police. A supervisor responded to the incident and requested medical assistance for 48-year-old Shane Trawick due to blunt force trauma.

“The suspect was taken into custody,” according to the statement. “No weapons were located. This matter remains under investigation.”

Trawick died at the hospital, according to a statement from Cuyahoga County. His family has been notified, the statement said.

The death comes as state evaluations at the jail have shifted from once a month to once a year after state auditors said sufficent progress was made in improving inmate health and safety. The evaluations were the result of nine inmate deaths in less than a year during 2018 and 2019. A report from U.S. Marshals at the time described jail conditions as inhumane.

In October, the state official in charge of those inspections said the jail had improved past the point of needing monthly oversight, though it did still fall short of standards in several areas.

Violence and deaths are often expected in jails, according to Ohio Northern University Criminal Justice Associate Professor Tristin Kilgallon. The question, he said, is whether staff followed protocols.

"You want to kind of figure out, did the staff try to do everything they could and just something bad happened,” Kilgallon said. “Or was there some kind of negligence, some kind of lapse in security or the way they handled the situation and that led to this."

The responsibility to make remedial changes and improve the situation so more incidents don’t take place generally falls to the county, Kilgallon said.

The jail also is facing yet another change in leadership at the end of 2020. County Sheriff David Schilling plans to step down after 15 months on the job. The position has seen significant turnover in the last decade.

Efforts to establish guidelines and overall morale can be negatively impacted by frequent leadership changes like those in Cuyahoga County, Kilgallon said.

“If you start to see turnover, one after another, a succession of people in leadership positions being replaced or dismissed or stepping down, it complicates things,” Kilgallon said.

Schilling has served as sheriff since August 2019. He is currently taking family medical leave, according to a press release, and will step down completely as of Dec. 31.