Assault on Officer Shows Safety Risks of 'Double Podding' for Guards and Inmates at Cuyahoga County Jail

On January 17, 2016, Cuyahoga County Jail corrections officer Matthew Norman was assaulted by an inmate while double podded. That practice, which has been under fire by corrections officers and their union for years, has one guard watching two pods housing as many as 96 inmates in total. (The entire jail holds about 2,000 inmates.) Though an arbitrator had ruled back in 1997 that double podding created unsafe working conditions, the county satisfied components of the ruling by installing "roving" officers, and the practice has gone on, despite the fact that as far back as 2011 officers told the Plain Dealer that the roving officer policy had "gone by the wayside."

Though officials and experts say that double podding is an acceptable standard and itself not a direct cause of assaults on officers, it's still a long-burning (as in decades, not months) point of contention for guards who say that the safety of employees and inmates are at risk because of the practice, which continues to this day.

In the case of Officer Norman from January of 2016, the officer was conducting a chow pass while double podded. An inmate, Timothy Clark, started tossing verbal insults at Norman and refused his orders to return to his cell. Clark slapped at Norman's arm. The two then tussled. Clark got Officer Norman in a bear hug and took Norman to the ground, where he started choking the officer. Images after the fact show abrasions to Norman's neck. The officer was thankfully able to flip over and escape Clark's grasp long enough to activate an alarm (P.A.T.) on a radio that had previously fallen from his reach during the assault.

The SRT (Special Response Team) was called and the reports (which can be viewed in full below) show that in the aftermath inmates in the pod were disobeying orders, screaming things like, "Fuck you," and, "Beat your ass again bitch."

Though no serious injuries were sustained, the incident showed the dangers of what can happen to a guard who's double podded without the help or protection of a partner. Sure, the radio allowed for an alarm to be sent, eventually, but if Norman hadn't been able to reach his radio, things could have gone disastrously differently.

Guards remain concerned that incidents like this one, and others that have occurred throughout the year that remain under investigation, are in fact a direct result of the county's staffing choices. (Many additional incidents that Scene is aware of are currently under open investigation by the county and thus full records are not yet available.)

Since cell doors are supposed to be locked when a single guard is double podded, inmates are essentially on constant lockdown. In other words, inmates who have not violated any rules are stuck in their cells simply due to staffing issues, which officers argue further aggravates the hostile environment and tensions for them and staff.

The locks themselves are also a safety issue. Inmates in Jail Two are able to pop the locks of some cell doors using spoons, we now know thanks to video from inside the facility. Officers say that faulty locks and doors are simply not replaced or fixed and that they can also be opened simply by kicking them. With tensions high, inmates have been popping their cell doors in recent weeks and fighting. As a solution, inmates are no longer allowed to have spoons anymore, a county spokesperson told Fox 8, who added that maintenance claims to have only found one faulty lock during a recent inspection.

One former County Jail guard, Robert Jackson, sued the county back in 2012 claiming that officials ignored safety concerns, specifically double podding, he says led to injuries he sustained while trying to break up a brawl between inmates. The Plain Dealer at the time found 100 or so incidents of inmates assaulting or fighting with guards during a two year period.

Five years later, the staffing nor the violence concerns have abated, and the county continues operating like nothing's wrong.

County Jail Incident Report by VinceGrzegorek on Scribd

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Vince Grzegorek

Vince Grzegorek has been with Scene since 2007 and editor-in-chief since 2012. He previously worked at Discount Drug Mart and Texas Roadhouse.
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