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Published: Saturday, 5/2/2009

Telb pleads not guilty in jail cover-up

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sheriff James Telb talks to media representatives after his appearance in federal court Friday and expresses confidence that he will be exonerated. His attorney, Rick Kerger, is at left. Sheriff James Telb talks to media representatives after his appearance in federal court Friday and expresses confidence that he will be exonerated. His attorney, Rick Kerger, is at left.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Wearing the uniform and badge that identifies him as the Lucas County sheriff, James Telb stood in a federal courtroom Friday and pleaded not guilty to charges that he covered up a death linked to his jail and then lied to those investigating it.

Sheriff Telb and three members of his staff - including two former employees - were indicted in U.S. District Court in Toledo April 14 on criminal charges related to the 2004 death of an inmate and allegations of a subsequent cover-up.

The four men appeared with their attorneys Friday before Magistrate Vernelis Armstrong to plead not guilty to the charges - the first court appearance for the sheriff, who has denied the allegations and vowed to serve the remainder of his seventh term in office.

"We'll let the criminal justice system work," the sheriff said after the court hearing. "I spent my whole adult life in the criminal justice system and I'm confident it will work."

He once again expressed confidence he would be exonerated.

The sheriff was charged in a 12-count indictment that also named John Gray, a retired ser-geant; Jay Schmeltz, a retired deputy sheriff, and Capt. Robert McBroom, an investigator with the Internal Affairs Department.

The four men crowded at an elongated defense table Friday and each pleaded not guilty to charges that stem from a federal investigation of the 2004 death of inmate Carlton Benton.

Mr. Gray and Mr. Schmeltz were each charged with deprivation of rights under the color of law, two counts of falsification of a document, and one count of making false statements. A second charge of deprivation of rights under the color of law - which is filed against members of law enforcement who allegedly violate a person's civil rights while acting in their official capacity - was filed against Mr. Gray, who is accused of choking Mr. Benton and causing his death.

The sheriff and Captain McBroom were each charged with one count each of making false statements and misprision of a felony, or the cover-up of a crime.

If convicted, each man faces time behind bars.

Magistrate Armstrong read through each of the charges against the men before taking their pleas and setting bond. Sheriff Telb and Captain McBroom were each released on $10,000 unsecured bonds. Mr. Schmeltz was released on a $25,000 unsecured bond, and Mr. Gray was released on a $50,000 unsecured bond.

The men do not have to pay toward an unsecured bond unless they do not appear in court.

Another condition of bond is that the men are not to possess a firearm.

"I'm not carrying a gun, no," Sheriff Telb said after the hearing. "There are plenty of people who will be with me who have guns."

According to information in the federal indictment read by Magistrate Armstrong, a handcuffed Mr. Benton was "assaulted and strangled" by Mr. Gray and "struck and assaulted" by Mr. Schmeltz on May 30, 2004, in the jail's booking area.

Mr. Gray is also accused of failing "to obtain necessary medical care and treatment for [Mr. Benton], resulting in bodily injury and death to [Mr. Benton]."

The two men also are accused of writing false reports to conceal the incident and of making false statements to the FBI.

Ryan McKinstry of the U.S. Department of Justice told Magistrate Armstrong that the government intends to provide more information to the defense than is "required by the rules." He said that the information would be brought to the FBI office in Toledo for review.

Mr. McKinstry also requested that Sheriff Telb and Captain McBroom be ordered to not have any discussions with any member of the sheriff's office about the case so as to avoid "any undue influence on potential witnesses."

When ordered to do so, Sheriff Telb stood and agreed. "I understand, your honor."

Although each of the crimes carries substantial time in prison, Magistrate Armstrong outlined the potential penalties faced by each man.

Using preliminary guidelines, Sheriff Telb and Captain McBroom each could face up to three years in prison.

Mr. Schmeltz could face a sentence of up to 12 years and three months, and Mr. Gray could be sentenced to as long as 27 years behind bars.

Mr. Benton, who was 25 when he died, was being held in the Lucas County jail on murder charges in lieu of a $1 million bond, accused in the Feb. 12, 2004, slaying of his paralyzed cousin and the cousin's wife in their North Erie Street home.

The North Toledo man was charged with two counts of aggravated murder in the death of Anthony Griffin, 42, and another count of aggravated murder in the killing of Tammy Griffin, 40.

According to police, Mr. Benton confessed to beating Mrs. Griffin to death in front of her husband and eventually killed his cousin after hours of striking him over the head, injecting him with medication, forcing him to take pills, and then stabbing him twice in the chest.

According to jail records, Mr. Benton was taken from the jail to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center on May 28, 2004, after having convulsions.

He was discharged May 30 and returned to the jail, where he was taken to a medical cell and restrained. Several corrections officers involved in transporting Mr. Benton to the medical cell alleged that a sheriff's sergeant "had a chokehold on him and kept it on him longer than he needed," according to information contained in the record.

Shortly after he was placed in the medical cell, a corrections officer noticed that Mr. Benton was not breathing, and he was returned to St. Vincent, where he died June 1, 2004.

Mr. Schmeltz, Mr. Gray, and Captain McBroom left the courthouse yesterday without commenting on the case.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 412-213-2134.



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