After the third lawsuit in less than 10 years against the Seneca County Jail was launched in December, a former employee of the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office is speaking out, saying he feels it is his duty to make residents “aware of the problems that are occurring continually out there.”
In the last 9 years, a total of 3 lawsuits have been filed against the Seneca County Jail while under the watch of Seneca County Sheriff William Eckelberry and his supervisors, according to court records. Eckelberry was appointed as acting sheriff in Jan. 2010 and was elected to his first full four-year term in the Nov. 2010 general election, in which he ran unopposed.
Those lawsuits include: Anthony Peart v. Seneca County Jail (2011), Kenneth Askam (on behalf of Doug Askam) v. Seneca County Jail (2016), and Estate of Rachael Ann Peak v. Seneca County Jail (2019).
“These range from the lack of current policies & procedures, lack of care of inmates, failure to keep inmates safe, failure to attend to medical/mental conditions, and one death inside the jail where the coroner’s report ruled ‘dehydration due to opiate withdrawal,'” former sheriff’s office employee Bill Bonham wrote in a letter obtained by TiffinOhio.net News.
Bonham says he believes the lawsuits stem from the Seneca County Jail consistently failing the State of Ohio’s minimum standards for jails, which the facility gets inspected on yearly, under Sheriff Eckelberry’s command.
The most recent report released in 2018 shows the Seneca County Jail had a total of 25 standards, 10 essential and 15 important, that the facility was not in compliance with.
In 2017, a total of 30 standards, 17 essential and 13 important, were not complied with. In 2016, a total of 20 standards, 9 essential and 11 important, were not complied with. And in 2015, a total of 31 standards were not complied with, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction website.
“In addition, due to federal ICE illegal immigrants that are housed there, they get inspected by the federal authorities and failed that as well. In fact, they are in danger of losing the ICE contract if they fail the next inspection. This brings in well over a million dollars to the county each year,” Bonham said, citing a 2015 report from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Detention Oversight. A 2019 report regarding the annual inspection of the facility, in which it was rated as “deficient,” can be viewed here.
When it comes to the upcoming primary election in March, Bonham says he doesn’t see anything changing at the sheriff’s office unless there is a change in leadership.
“The current sheriff and his handpicked successor is clearly not making the necessary changes as can be witnessed by the last 4 years of data collected by the state,” Bonham said. “The 2016 lawsuit alone was a payout of $750,000. This is ridiculous that we cannot have a jail passing basic minimum standards that surrounding counties don’t seem to have any problems passing.”
Bonham said he believes the “lack of discipline” and lack of yearly evaluations on “any of the employees” has led to “all of the problems out there.”
“It is definitely way past time for a change of leadership and it will not come from within as the hand-picked successor is fully endorsed by the current sheriff and says he will continue the good work that the Sheriff has done in his 2 terms. If at least 2 former lawsuits and 1 current lawsuit in the jail with a payout of at least $750,000 of tax payer money is ‘good work’ then you get what you vote for,” Bonham wrote, referencing Eckelberry’s endorsement of David Pahl.
In December, the most recent lawsuit against the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office was filed on behalf of Michele Seaman, of Fremont. Seaman is the sister of Rachael Ann Peak and also serves as administrator for Peak’s estate.
Peak was locked up at the jail in 2017 on a misdemeanor theft charge, according to the lawsuit.
Seaman is suing Seneca County Sheriff Bill Eckelberry, the Seneca County Board of Commissioners, and four corrections officers at the Seneca County Jail (Barton, Branson, Brooks, and Castanien), accusing them of failing to keep inmates at the jail safe, putting inmates in overcrowded conditions, failing to timely recognize emergency medical issues, and failing to get medical assistance for said issues in a timely manner.
Peak was transported and discharged to Tiffin-Mercy Hospital on December 10, 2017 after she was found to be lethargic and disoriented in her jail cell, according to the lawsuit.
Doctors said while Peak was incarcerated, she entered into an “altered mental state,” which was determined to be brain damage resulting from infective endocarditis, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit states jail officials delayed in requesting emergency transport for Peak, who was later transported to another hospital via Life Flight.
Peak eventually died from organ failure on April 29, 2018, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit points out that the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections conducted an inspection of the Seneca County Jail on December 4, 2017, while Peak was incarcerated.
On the date of inspection, several areas of the facility showed signs of disrepair, according to an ODRC report reviewed by TiffinOhio.net News:
- Temporary beds were used to compensate for overcrowding
- It was observed that light bulbs in many of the inmate living areas were burnt out which resulted in low light meter requirements
- A bottom metal panel on a shower was pulled away from a wall, graffiti on many of the walls in housing/cell areas
- Urinals not operable
- Vent covers had debris covering proper ventilation
- A drinking fountain was not operational
- Security tinting on windows removed
- A hole in the drywall in an inmate living area
“Justice for my sister!,” Michele Seaman said after the lawsuit was filed.
Current Seneca County Sheriff William Eckelberry had submitted petitions to run for re-election, but withdrew them before the candidate filing deadline.
Eckelberry has endorsed David Pahl, who currently serves as a captain in the sheriff’s office, for the top job.
In addition to David Pahl, two other candidates will appear on the March ballot in the Republican primary race for the job: Chief Fred Stevens of the Tiffin Police Department, and former Seneca County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Matthew Huffman.
Attempts to reach Eckelberry for comment were unsuccessful.