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Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition statement on Euclid Police Department's Call for a New Jail 

Cleveland, OH, Monday April 12, 2021


Last week, Cleveland 19 News issued a report saying that Euclid Police Department (PD) is advocating for the construction of a new municipal jail facility in their town, complaining that the County’s new COVID-influenced pretrial detention policies are preventing the Euclid PD from “keeping their community safe.” We in the Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition see this narrative for what it is: a naked attempt by an abusive local police department to undermine what few incremental steps the county has taken towards desperately needed bail reform.


Despite the 13 recent deaths at the Cuyahoga County Jail, four of which occurred in the last year alone, it took the overwhelming crisis of a global pandemic for the County Court of Common Pleas to make serious changes in the jail’s approach to pretrial detention. While we believe that there is still much work to be done, their progress on this front must be defended lest we stumble rback towards the “law and order” rhetoric that fostered a culture of mass incarceration in the first place.


Euclid Police Chief Scott Meyer characterized these pretrial policies inaccurately, either out of a desire to be intentionally misleading or out of ignorance: either way, his word should not be trusted.Convicted felony offenders are not being released from the Cuyahoga County Jail. Jails do not house those convicted with felonies, but rather those serving time on misdemeanor charges and those awaiting trial who have not yet been convicted of anything. Frequently, these residents housed in the jail have not even been officially charged.


The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is supposedly a foundational principle of our legal system, but this is directly undermined by a cash bail system that allows those with the means to pay the ability to await trial at home (with their life largely undisrupted) while the poor are left to be traumatized in dangerous jail facilities for sometimes months at a time. There is obviously a difference in outcomes between someone who has regular access to an attorney and can wear formal dress to trial, and someone who is walked into a courtroom in handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit after months in a county-run facility. This should not be a surprise, and indeed prosecutors take advantage of this economic disparity by using the pressure created by long stays in pretrial detention to force defendants to negotiate plea deals. Because of this, most cases do not go to trial at all.


What “reform” the county has done is to encourage judges to expand their understanding of which defendants can be released on “personal” or “unsecured” bond. Rather than needing to post bail in order to leave the jail before trial, those released with personal bond sign a document promising to pay a large fine if they do not return for their court date. “Cash” or “secured” bond imposes an immense up-front financial cost merely as a condition of arrest, whereas personal bond only imposes a financial cost if the defendant fails to show up for their trial. Someone released on personal bond can go back to work and take care of their family without having to take on a substantial debt, whereas jail time and/or a large cash bond can have compounding consequences on a person’s life and well-being.


While misdemeanor charges have always come with the presumption of release on personal bond, and felonies often can at the judge’s discretion, typically defendants charged with felonies are required to post bail. As a measure to prevent the jail population from ticking back up after it was significantly reduced at the outset of the pandemic last spring, County Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan has begun encouraging his colleagues to issue personal bond for all nonviolent low-level felonies, which includes F4, F5, and some F3 charges. With some exceptions, these are property or drug-related charges without any violent component, and the county has specifically stated that the violent offenses do not fall under this policy.


Despite that, Sgt. Baron complains about not having any place to put people who he said “need” to be in jail. We challenge his premise that nonviolent offenders need to be behind bars while awaiting trial, and further challenge that the Euclid Police Department has the right or capacity to understand who “needs” to go to jail to make the community safe. We do not trust the Euclid Police to be the arbiters of what makes this community safe, especially given their egregious and violent behavior time and time again against this same community.


We’ve seen repeatedly in the past that the Euclid Police do not handle their power responsibly. Already in this year alone, the city of Euclid paid out nearly a half million dollars as a settlement for a 2017 case when Officer Michael Amiott needlessly brutalized Richard Hubbard after a minor traffic stop. Another Officer, Donald Ivory, touted as a “Top Cop” in 2016, is currently under investigation for attempting to rape a 13-year-old girl, and threatening to take her to Juvenile Hall if she didn’t cooperate.


Illegal and immoral police training protocols, as well as advice given to trainees, was uncovered during fact gathering in the Luke Stewart murder case. These shocking documents show that abuse and violence are pervasive parts of the department’s culture; for instance, officers cracked jokes about how the safest way to avoid a police interaction was to “have a white friend.” Training material showed officers aggressively beating a person, saying they’re “serving and protecting the **** out of you.” These are not the actions of protectors, public servants, or honest law-abiding people. These are the behaviors of predators, looking for a reason to wield their might against powerless people.

Euclid PD’s push to build their own jail is just another example of this department’s systemic desire to expand their power only to abuse it Using concerns about pretrial release as an excuse to build a new jail is a total farce. It would be many years before a new jail was complete, and once it’s built, it would give this same abusive department the ability to control who sits in a cell, for how long, with total control over how someone is treated, and with little to no oversight. Mass incarceration has been foisted on our communities for decades under the guise of safety and protection; we know now that this doesn’t work. In fact, this obsession with incarceration has actually made us less safe, and is likely increased crime. Another new jail would simply be an expensive, violent, and totally ineffective solution to community problems.


We urge the City of Euclid to look for alternatives to incarceration through community-based systems of care. The millions of dollars and years of effort it would take to build a new jail could instead go towards expanding affordable housing, mental health and substance use treatment, and other community resources. Community crisis and support centers could be built and designed to help connect community members to these resources. Pre-arrest and pretrial diversion programs are another vital element in this vision. Expanding pretrial release in conjunction with access to community resources tailored to justice-involved individuals is the way forward towards a safer, stronger community. This approach has been tried across the country with great success, leading to a drop in incarceration and crime at the same time (research shows that pretrial release significantly lowers the likelihood of recidivism).


What the Euclid Police Department demonstrates by growling about pretrial release for nonviolent offenders is not care for the community, but anger over a loss of power and control in a changing world. Cuyahoga County has made some small but positive steps towards bail reform - this is an initiative that should be encouraged and pushed further, not driven back. We encourage the community to take up the call for a new system prioritizing care over cages, and robust public participation in the development of this system.

 Cuyahoga County 

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