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Published: Thursday, 4/16/2009

Telb in trouble

FEDERAL indictments filed against the Lucas County sheriff and three others involving the death of an inmate at the county jail are by far the most serious examples of problems that have plagued the department for much of Sheriff James Telb's 25 years in office. But while there is a history of incompetence in the sheriff's administration, there has never before been anything to suggest he is dishonest.

Sheriff Telb is charged with lying to FBI agents and attempting to cover up a felony in connection with the 2004 death of Carlton Benton, an inmate at the jail. A coroner's report at the time concluded that Mr. Benton died of natural causes related to a seizure disorder.

The federal indictment claims Mr. Benton was assaulted, strangled, and struck by two corrections officers, one of whom then failed to obtain medical treatment for the prisoner, resulting in his death. A third officer, a captain in the Internal Affairs Department, also is accused of lying to the FBI and trying to cover up a crime.

Mr. Benton was in jail facing charges that he had murdered two people - crimes police allege he confessed to. It was also alleged that Mr. Benton was violent and had to be restrained prior to his death. None of that matters. Corrections officers are supposed to be trained to deal with dangerously uncooperative prisoners without seriously injuring or killing them.

Over the years, there have been many incidents, most at the jail, suggesting that Sheriff Telb isn't able to maintain the discipline necessary among employees to ensure the county jail is run safely.

In 2003, a former jail counselor smuggled bullets and a gun clip to a convicted murdered who used them to fashion a working gun, which he used in a failed attempt to escape. Also that year, a guard was caught smuggling cocaine into the Spielbusch Avenue facility.

In 2006, a corrections officer left keys within reach of an inmate who subsequently escaped and robbed a North Toledo bank before he was recaptured. In 2008 a suspect was able to flee the jail booking area, leading to a chase through downtown Toledo before he was recaptured. Also last year, a former corrections officer was found guilty of accepting a bribe to smuggle drugs and other contraband into the jail.

Most recently, a former corrections officer was found guilty of assaulting two inmates and posing as a police officer. Two other officers pleaded guilty to witness tampering.

And now, if the latest charges are true, a prisoner died because an officer used excessive force and then several people, including the sheriff, tried to cover up the incident.

As these accusations make their way through the courts, we will eventually discover whether incompetence, criminal activity, or both were involved in Mr. Benton's death. But even if Sheriff Telb and the other officers accused are cleared of wrongdoing, the fact will remain that the seven-term sheriff's inability to address recurrent problems at the jail raises questions about his fitness to continue in office.



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