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Published: Friday, 2/20/2009

Lucas County responds to suit

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Responding to a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family of a former jail inmate who died while in custody, Lucas County denied wrongdoing in a response filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo.

The lawsuit, filed in December by the family of Carlton Benton, accuses members of the sheriff's office with causing his death when they "repeatedly physically assaulted him in 2004."

The death is the impetus of an ongoing criminal investigation conducted by the federal government.

In its seven-page response filed this week, the county denied the allegations made by Mr. Benton's family, only admitting that Mr. Benton was taken into custody at the jail on a murder charge. It also claimed immunity from the lawsuit and asserted that all actions taken by the county were "undertaken in good faith, without malice or recklessness and were within the execution of duties."

Mr. Benton, 24, was being held in the Lucas County jail on two counts of aggravated murder. He was accused in the Feb. 12, 2004, slayings of his paralyzed cousin and the cousin's wife and faced the death penalty if convicted.

He died June 1, 2004, at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, two days after Lucas County jail corrections officers found him in his cell not breathing, according to information in Mr. Benton's jail record. His death, according to the Lucas County Coroner's Office, was caused by a seizure disorder in association with antidepressant use and was ruled natural.

In their lawsuit filed Dec. 9 in Common Pleas Court and later transferred to federal court, Mr. Benton's family members accused sheriff's department employees of handcuffing the inmate to his bed and striking him.

It further states that an eyewitness has come forward to say that Mr. Benton died "due to being struck multiple times, without the ability to defend himself."

Since the lawsuit was filed, the sheriff's office confirmed that it had conducted its own criminal investigation of the matter last March.

It resulted in no criminal charges.



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