CLEVELAND — It took a subpoena, but Cuyahoga County Council finally got to hear from Sheriff Cliff Pinkney Tuesday about troubles inside the county jail. But what they heard was a soon-to-retire Pinkney say he was effectively cut out of major decisions about the jail which saw nine inmates die in 13 months.
“The sheriff reports up,” Pinkney told council members. “The only thing the sheriff can do is make recommendations up and it’s up to the administrator. He or she has the right to take advice from whoever they want to.”
And, Pinkney says, that often was someone else.
“I believe it was in 2018 or 2017, there was a request for additional nurses that I approved and then it was ultimately denied by the previous jail director,” said Pinkney.
That former jail director is the now-indicted Ken Mills. On paper, the position was supposed to report to the sheriff, but Pinkney told council that he was not involved in the decision to hire Mills, who had no prior experience in corrections.
“If Cliff Pinkney is the duly-elected sheriff of Cuyahoga County, does Ken Mills have a job running the jail?” asked Councilman Michael Gallagher.
“No,” said Pinkney.
The sheriff said he also was not involved in plans to regionalize the jail, which some say caused even more problems at the chronically-overcrowded lock-up.
A November report by the U.S. Marshal found “inhumane” conditions inside the jail. Inspectors also believed then-warden Eric Ivey violated inmates’ constitutional rights.
Pinckney said Tuesday that he asked the county’s human resources department to investigate Ivey, but never received a response. Ivey was later indicted by a Grand Jury.
Council’s questioning was sometimes interrupted by attorneys defending the county in lawsuits stemming from conditions inside the jail.
Pinkney, who is scheduled to retire this week, said he was willing to come back and answer questions behind closed doors.
But, some council members believe to get to to the truth, they’ll need answers from County Executive Armond Buidsh.
“We do have too many holes in the story,” said Gallagher. “I think we need the answers. We’re owed the answers. I understand people making mistakes, but the consequences of the mistakes we’re dealing with are the ultimate and we have to have answers to correct this.”
Watch the stream of the council meeting below: