CLEVELAND — Jury deliberations are underway in the criminal trial of former Cuyahoga County Jail director Ken Mills.
Mills is charged with two counts of dereliction of duty, as well as falsification and tampering with records after investigators said he lied to county council about his role in blocking the hiring of nurses inside the jail leading up to the string of eight inmate deaths in the last six months of 2018.
During closing arguments, prosecutors accused Mills of failing to do his job when he pushed ahead with plans to regionalize the Cuyahoga County jail by charging cities and suburbs to house their inmates despite the lock-up already being overcrowded and understaffed.
"Ken Mills was Armond Budish’s puppet," said prosecutor Matt Meyers. "He was put in that jail to do one thing and that was to turn it into a money-maker and make his boss Armond Budish happy."
Jurors never heard from Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish during the three-week trial.
Neither side called Budish as a witness despite repeated references to him during testimony.
A county spokesperson declined to comment on the prosecution's allegation Thursday.
Defense attorneys painted Mills as a fall guy for problems inside the jail.
"They want you to hold him accountable," said defense attorney Kevin Spellacy. "From the top down, if you believe it was broken, they should have known, and they should have done something. And if he was the problem, why wasn’t he gone?"
Mills eventually did resign in November 2018, days before the release of the US Marshal's report which called conditions inside the jail "inhumane."
Prosecutors used their own description of the lock-up as they accused Mills of not caring about inmates' lives.
"It is unacceptable in 2018 or 2021 for anyone in the United States of America to have someone serve time in a dungeon," said Meyer. "But that’s what Ken Mills did."
But defense attorneys claim Mills' powers as the jail's director had limits and told jurors that Ohio law places responsibility for the jail with the sheriff.
"That’s the person who runs the jail," said Spellacy. "It’s like the skipper of the ship. The first mate doesn’t wear the jacket when stuff goes wrong, right?"
The jury of seven men and five women began deliberations early Thursday afternoon.