CLEVELAND — As prosecutors wrapped-up their case against former Cuyahoga County Regional Director of Corrections Ken Mills, jurors heard of repeated pleas for more nurses inside the troubled lock-up in the months leading up to a string of eight inmate deaths in six months in 2018.
Mills is accused of dereliction of duty and lying to county council about his role in blocking the hiring of nurses inside the jail.
On Tuesday, the jail's medical director Dr. Thomas Tallman read from a series of emails in which Tallman discussed the need to hire more nurses in the under-staffed jail and its satellite locations.
"When you're short nurses you're essentially moving nurses around to cover more than one job function and there's a risk of things not getting done," said Tallman.
It's a risk that Tallman said became reality recalling at least three cases he was aware of in which inmates were not given required medical intake screenings.
Two of the cases involved inmates who died. Tallman said the third involved an inmate who had been shot but placed into a jail housing unit without being screened.
"He showed up on a routine sick call visit shortly after he came into the jail and asked that we address his wound dressings which we weren't aware he had gunshot wounds," said Tallman.
Prosecutors accused Mills of blocking the hiring of additional nurses as the jail looked to expand by taking inmates from other cities and suburbs in exchange for payments to the county.
But Mills attorneys said the former sheriff, Cliff Pinkney was the one responsible for conditions inside the jail.
On the witness stand, defense attorney Jim McDonnell asked Tallman about an email from the sheriff in which he tells other administrators not to hire nurses.
"That's the sheriff himself saying hold off on April 14, 2017, for hiring nurses, right," said McDonnell.
"Yes," said Tallman.
McDonnell also questioned Tallman about an email sent the day before a May 2018 county council meeting about the hiring of nurses. In the email, Tallman referred to the meeting as a "barbeque."
"That's probably poor wording and an email sent out of frustration, exasperation that should be re-worded," said Tallman.
But Tallman denied the meeting was an attempt to set up Mills.
"It was the county process that was going to be held accountable because they were responsible for hiring the nurses," said Tallman.
So you think it's the county's fault," said McDonnell.
"Yes, they played a role in this," said Tallman.
Mills' defense team said they expect to wrap up their case as early as Wednesday.
They have not said whether or not the former jail director plans to testify in his own defense.