GALLIPOLIS — Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin held a press conference Sunday afternoon in front of the Gallia Courthouse where he discussed the conditions behind a wave of jail troubles with the recent escape of four inmates and the deaths of two others in separate incidents.
Mother of recently deceased David “Tommy” Gibson, 27, of Patriot, Sherry Russell, questioned the sheriff regarding issues surrounding her son’s reported suicide in the jail during the conference.
Four male inmates reportedly escaped from the Gallia Jail approximately at 12:14 a.m., Sunday morning, after overpowering two female corrections officers with a “homemade weapon” that was later identified as a “shank,” said the sheriff. Three were recovered in Cary, North Carolina, at around 2 a.m., Monday, with the last, recovered in Durham, North Carolina, later on Monday.
The males who escaped were identified as follows. Brynn K. Martin, 40, Christopher M. Clemente, 24, Troy R. McDaniel Jr., 30, and Lawrence R. Lee III, 29.
Prior to their reported escape, according to the sheriff’s office, Lawrence was charged with fifth-degree felony identity fraud, second-degree misdemeanor of obstructing official business and first-degree misdemeanor assault. Clemente was indicted twice for first-degree complicity to trafficking in drugs. McDaniel was charged with a failure to appear in court from the Gallia County Juvenile Court for non-support of dependents. Martin was charged with fifth-degree felony breaking and entering, fourth-degree felony receiving stolen property, two fourth-degree felony failures to appear in court and third-degree felony escape.
“Our detectives have established that the inmates had the assistance (while) escaping of at least one individual on the outside,” said Champlin during the conference. “As far as details of the escape, this is what we know. Once gaining access to the administrative wing of the Gallia County Jail, the inmates stole keys to corrections officer vehicles. They then stole that vehicle and approximately proceeded one block (to the Gallipolis City Park) where they had a vehicle waiting for them.”
Law enforcement from the Gallia Sheriff’s Office, Gallipolis Police Department and the Ohio State Highway Patrol converged on the area in an attempt to locate the inmates, continued the sheriff. Officers from neighboring states also looked to develop leads. The sheriff said he had contacted both federal and state resources in an attempt to recover the inmates.
Corrections officers were not harmed during the escape.
“One of the questions that have been asked pertains to the staffing and why female corrections officers are supervising male inmates,” said Champlin. “Last evening… both (male corrections officers) called off sick to work. For those of you that don’t know, we operate a small 22-bed facility that employs nine full-time corrections officers, four females and five males. Currently, three of the male corrections officers are off work due to injuries sustained within our facility.”
Champlin said that hiring corrections officers could be challenging due to the working conditions of a roughly 70-year-old jail and finding individuals willing to work from $11 to $15 an hour.
“Some are calling for change and I could not agree with you more,” said Champlin. “I ran for sheriff for that exact change. The citizens of Gallia County were tired of being victimized at an alarming rate. I could not stand by and watch that happen. I’ve been in office for just over two-and-a-half years now. The jail problem is not a two-and-a-half-year-old problem. It’s a problem that’s existed for at least the last 15 to 20 years. After taking office, I quickly realized that our jail was outdated and insufficient to meet the needs and numbers and the types of criminals that we are currently housing…”
To address these issues, said Champlin, the sheriff’s office contracts with other corrections facilities across the state, the latest of which is Monroe County in an attempt to deal with overcrowding. The county has also been making efforts to design and create a new jail northeast of the Gallia Courthouse on Second Avenue in Gallipolis.
Recent jail woes in Gallia County also include an incident in early September where Martin and one other inmate escaped from transport before being recovered by law enforcement a few days later. Another escape was attempted in August by other inmates. The 2018 December death of inmate Mark Simms, 36, Crown City resident, was also being investigated.
“We do not have the ability to lock our inmates in cells like a conventional jail would,” said Champlin. “The doors of our cells are permanently open…”
The jail was reportedly modified into a “dorm” type facility in an attempt to house more inmates in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I have and will continue to search for solutions until this problem is fixed,” said Champlin.
Champlin also addressed two recent deaths of Gallia inmates which were reported by the Gallipolis Daily Tribune on Sept. 23 after an emergency meeting was called by Gallia County Commissioners.
“Although these are still under investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, preliminary reports indicate that one of the inmates died from a self-inflicted injury and the second died from overdose from contraband that was smuggled into our facility in a body cavity,” said the sheriff.
The individuals were identified earlier and respectively as David “Tommy” Gibson, 27, of Patriot, and Lacey Wolford, 35, of Bidwell. The sheriff’s office said that Gibson died on Sept. 14 and Wolford died Sept. 23. Officers were reportedly unable to reach them in time for assistance, said the sheriff in a previous news release.
“Ultimately, I am the Sheriff of Gallia County and although our commissioners (are responsible for sheriff office funding), I take full responsibility for the success as well as the failures that happen on my watch,” said Champlin.
Russell, Gibson’s mother, said that her son had been found hung in the jail. She asserted to reporters that she and her family had gotten Gibson in the jail in an attempt to get him help from an ongoing substance abuse issue.
“Your job is to protect the men that are in your facility,” said Russell during the conference as she addressed Champlin about what she alleged was a non-functioning surveillance system in the jail at the time of Gibson’s death. “He (Gibson) made some bad choices. He did not deserve to die.”
Champlin went on to say that he agreed the jail was not equipped to handle a variety of issues facing law enforcement, whether they were substance abuse, violent offenders or mental health concerns.
Russell, a nurse practitioner who said she previously had professional relations helping provide mental health medication to the jail, asserted that her son’s health should have been evaluated within three days of being entered in the jail. Gallia Jail Commander Kevin Werry replied that 10 days was the typical evaluation policy time frame. Russell disputed the statement.
One man who did not identify himself in the assembled crowd outside the courthouse said “These people saved my daughter’s life,” while pointing at the sheriff’s direction.
Another unidentified woman asked the sheriff where were corrections officers while Gibson was hanging.
Champlin replied that the protocols of the jail were being reviewed by Ohio BCI and the investigation was still ongoing. He said the office was not going to take any further questions before ending the conference.
“I don’t feel like we got any real answers,” said Russell to reporters after the conference. “I feel like we were being pacified and given the politically correct answers. Its obviously been a problem (jail troubles) for a while. We’ve had deaths in the past year and numerous escapes.”
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342.