Lawsuit Against Cuyahoga County, MetroHealth Alleges Whistleblower Violations
The former nursing director for the Cuyahoga County Jail filed a lawsuit late Tuesday against County Executive Armond Budish, former Regional Director of Corrections Ken Mills and others for First Amendment retaliation and liability for criminal acts.
The lawsuit alleges the county and MetroHealth committed conspiracy to violate Gary Brack’s civil rights and includes multiple counts of violations of free speech and whistleblower protections under state and federal law.
Brack was a MetroHealth employee working at the Cuyahoga County Corrections Center under a contract to provide medical care at the jail. He was removed from that position after speaking out against Mills at a May 22, 2018, county council committee meeting. At that meeting, Brack testified that the jail nursing situation was dire and accused Mills of blocking the hiring of additional nurses.
At a Wednesday press conference, Brack said he walked away expecting Metrohealth CEO Akram Boutros and County Executive Armond Budish would fix the problem.
“Never once did Dr. Boutros or Armond Budish pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey Nurse Brack, what’s going on down there?’” Brack said. “What did happen was two days later I’m summoned to Metrohealth and told, ‘You’re relieved of your position.’”
The lawsuit states, “His candid answers to County legislators triggered malfeasance investigations, a string of public-corruption indictments, and renewed cries for County reform.”
Named in the suit are Cuyahoga County itself, MetroHealth CEO Akram Boutros, Boutros’s chief of staff, Jane Platten, and Mills.
“It is time for Cuyahoga County to reckon with the unmitigated disaster of our local jail’s mismanagement,” said Subodh Chandra, Brack’s lead counsel, in a Wednesday press release.
A spokesperson for Cuyahoga County declined to comment on the lawsuit and a MetroHealth spokesperson said in an email, “We’re still reviewing the complaint and are not in a position to comment at this time.”
The lawsuit also details Mills’ alleged years of sanctioning violence against inmates, withholding medical care, obstructing mental health care, homophobic comments, and problematic treatment of other employees, including the county’s former Director of Nursing, Marcus Harris, who resigned in 2017. Some of Mills’ conduct has already been investigated by the Cuyahoga County Inspector General.
Mills, who resigned in November, was indicted in January along with a current county employee and a former one. Prosecutors accuse Mills of lying to county council at the May 2018 meeting. He has pleaded not guilty.
The FBI and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation raided Budish’s office in Feburary, seeking Budish’s electronic records, files on the county jail and any evidence of extortion, obstruction and other crimes, according to a search warrant. Law enforcement confiscated files on jail complaints, two desktop computers, an iPhone and files on a proposal to privatize medical care at the jail.
Budish has maintained his innocence, releasing a statement after the raid that it was “without justification” and appeared to be politically motivated.