The union representing Cuyahoga County jailers said cases of officers using force against inmates as discipline are not the norm inside the county lock-up.
"We think it's very isolated and have not been made aware of what the current allegation is, but through time there have been very few use of force incidents in our jail," said Dan Leffler, Chief of Staff for the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.
In a review of jail operations, a U.S. Marshal Service team wrote that interviews with inmates revealed "strong and consistent" allegations of brutality, use of force as punishment and cruel treatment of inmates by guards. In one case, inspectors said they confirmed that use of force was used as a punishment and turned the case over to the FBI to investigate. Many of the allegations referenced the jail's Security Response Team.
"They're responding to sort of emergency situations," said Leffler. "I would say it would not be unusual for inmates to feel there was a certain amount of intimidation, but that's because what they're there to do was to sort of alleviate an ongoing emergency."
Leffler denied there was an "us against them" mentality between inmates and guards, but said that overcrowding and understaffing can lead to issues.
"Obviously, the more you increase the number of inmates compared to officers, there's going to be inherent tension there," said Leffler.
According to the U.S. Marshal's report, Cuyahoga County jail was 655 inmates above capacity and short 96 corrections officers.
In some cases, Leffler said guards have had to supervise three or four times the number of inmates they would typically have to watch.
Inspectors noted shortages of officers led to "Red Zoning," a situation where inmates were locked down in their cells for 27 or more hours. In one case, the report noted red zoning lasted 12 days in a row.
Leffler said he's hoping a task force will be assembled to look for solutions to the jail's problems.