Officer Warns of Riots at Increasingly Hostile Cuyahoga County Jail

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Rally for Justice for Incarcerated Individuals, Cuyahoga County Justice Center, (5/29/20). - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • Rally for Justice for Incarcerated Individuals, Cuyahoga County Justice Center, (5/29/20).

An officer at the Cuyahoga County Jail has warned that due to increased lockdowns, reduced supervisors, and guard burnout due to Covid-19, the beleaguered facility is meeting all the conditions for a riot.

In an urgent letter to his superiors, including Warden Michelle Henry and Jail Director Rhonda Gibson, Officer Frank Hocker Jr. relayed examples of increased agitation and aggression by incarcerated individuals against officers. And he outlined a series of deficiencies that he said was creating an increasingly violent atmosphere at the jail. Chief among them is the constant "red zoning" — a euphemism for lockdowns — which is itself the result of staff shortages due to Covid.



"The inmates are angry and the climate inside of the jail is growing more and
more hostile everyday," he wrote.

Hocker described two recent assaults on officers, one on Dec. 15 and one on Dec. 17, and noted that a lack of supervisors, (five corporals have retired or resigned since the pandemic began and have not been replaced), and a lack of discipline may be partly to blame.



Overall, Hocker wrote, the worsening conditions at the jail — including those that recall a U.S. Marshalls Report in 2018 — are laying the groundwork for a riot. 

"When I became an officer," he wrote, "one of the things we were taught was why riots start in the jail. Bad or No Food, No recreation, Isolation, overcrowding, no contact with their legal team and family. Currently, the jail is on a rotation schedule, and I fully understand why, but what is being overlooked, is that every time a pod is red zoned, many times the inmates are not being allowed out of their cells all day in order to shower, speak to their attorneys or family or just stretch their legs. To them it's forced lockup or discipline.

"Supervisors need to be able to modify the rotation schedule in order make sure that all inmates within the pod receive time out of their cells. The
rotation doesn't work if you're red zoned, and if the rotation can't be modified then we are in for more flooded cells, and inmates acting out. I had an inmate who spread feces all over his cell because he was sentenced to four years and because he was mad at being locked down all day. The inmates need to be allowed to make attorney calls and at least walk around their housing unit because keeping them locked up is just causing more of them to lash out on the officers, out of frustration."

Hocker noted that the Special Response Team — nicknamed the "Men in Black" because of their tactical gear — is critically understaffed as well. He said it used to have 48 members, but is now down to 18 (about four per shift), and that some of them are out with Covid.

"If a riot happens, everyone will ask the same question," the letter concluded. "What did we put in place to help divert this from happening. For years that factor has been supervision and [the Special Response Team]."

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