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Published: Saturday, 1/29/2011

2 sentenced in death of Lucas County jail inmate

During separate hearings in U.S. District Court in Toledo, retired Sgt. John Gray was ordered to serve three years in prison and Jay Schmeltz, a retired deputy, was sentenced to one year and one day.

Judge David Katz allowed the men to leave court with their families but ordered them to report once notified where they would serve their sentences.

The judge explained the prison sentences were designed to be "adequate but not excessive," saying the sentence should "deter future conduct by officers in similar situations and thus protect the public from these crimes."

The two men were among four defendants on trial in November for various crimes associated with the death of inmate Carlton Benton and what federal prosecutors contended was a subsequent cover-up.

A jury found Lucas County Sheriff James Telb and Internal Affairs Capt. Robert McBroom not guilty of criminal charges that they conspired to cover up the inmate's death and lied to federal officials about the incident four years later.

Retired Lucas County Sheriff's deputy Jay Schmeltz, left, and retired Sgt. John Gray outside federal court Friday morning. Retired Lucas County Sheriff's deputy Jay Schmeltz, left, and retired Sgt. John Gray outside federal court Friday morning.
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Gray and Schmeltz were each convicted of some, but not all, the charges they faced.

Gray, 72, was convicted of one count of violating civil rights for leaving the inmate in a cell without seeking medical attention and of two counts of writing false reports of the incident. He was acquitted of one count each of lying to the FBI and applying a sleeper hold that rendered a shackled Mr. Benton unconscious.

Schmeltz, 54, was found guilty of writing a false report but was acquitted of a second count of writing a false report and of violating civil rights for pushing the shackled inmate while escorting him through the jail's booking area.

"Law enforcement officers are granted a great deal of power so that they can protect and serve their communities, and those who abuse their power will face consequences," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general, in a written statement released after the sentence. "The department will aggressively prosecute all cases of police misconduct."

As part of his sentence, Schmeltz was ordered to pay a $6,000 fine, and both men will be placed on two years supervised release after serving their time in prison.

Schmeltz's lawyer, Jeff Helmick, said before the sentence was imposed that his client was "humbled by both his conduct and this experience." Mr. Helmick pointed to Schmeltz's emotional reaction to the verdict and asked the judge to consider that when determining whether he felt Schmeltz was impacted by the gravity of the situation.

"It speaks volumes that the court and the government got his attention," Mr. Helmick said.

According to the presentence report, Schmeltz faced a sentence guideline range of 30 to 37 months. Federal prosecutors objected to the judge's sentence.

Both Mr. Helmick and Spiros Cocoves, who represents Gray, noted the lack of a criminal record for each of their clients and the men's lengthy service to the community.

In a written sentencing memorandum submitted to the court, Mr. Cocoves noted that the jury "rejected the government's central theory of the case -- that Mr. Gray caused the death of Mr. Benton by use of the sleeper hold."

Because of Gray's age and various medical conditions, Mr. Cocoves asked the judge to order a sentence significantly lower than the 41 to 51 months that was the calculated advisory guideline range.

Neither Gray nor Schmeltz spoke prior to being sentenced.

Their lawyers told Judge Katz that their silence did not indicate a lack of emotion but instead they were acting on the advice of their civil counsel.

The family of Carlton Benton has sued the county and the defendants individually in a wrongful-death suit filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo. Also named in the complaint are Sheriff Telb and Captain McBroom.

Mr. Benton's parents made brief statements to the court prior to the sentences but declined comment afterward. In a slightly choked voice, Denise Coley identified herself as Mr. Benton's mother.

"I am the mother of the deceased Carlton Benton and I love my son just like any other parent would love their children," she said. "All I have to say is I pray that the Lord forgives them and to have mercy on them."

DeCarlos Benton, Sr., called his son his "friend" and said that "this event has been devastating to my family."

"It has been quite painful. From June, [2004], to now has been a long time," he said. "I'm disillusioned of the fact that those who took an oath to uphold the Constitution perpetrated these events."

Mr. Benton then said that the family continues to feel a "void" at family events and celebrations.

Mr. Benton, 25, was in custody on aggravated murder charges including death penalty specifications for the 2004 deaths of a disabled cousin and his wife. According to police, he confessed to the crimes.

He died June 1, 2004, at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, two days after he was taken from the jail unconscious and unresponsive.

He had just returned from the hospital after he was transported there May 28, 2004, after suffering seizures, according to trial testimony.

At the time, his death was ruled natural.

In March of 2010, the Lucas County Coroner's Office revised the ruling, saying that Mr. Benton's death was a homicide as a result of asphyxia following a sleeper hold.

Federal prosecutors noted that Mr. Benton never received the due process to which he was entitled and said it was the result of the actions of sworn law enforcement officers.

"This is about respect for the law and the ability for the system to function," said Kristy Parker, a federal prosecutor.

When leaving the courthouse, Schmeltz declined to comment on the sentence, saying only that he was "frustrated."

Gray, surrounded by family, left without comment.

Authorities said the two men will be told, probably within 30 days, where and when they must report to begin serving their sentences.

Although there is no early release in federal sentences, there is the ability to earn "good-conduct-time credit."

For every year served with no infractions, defendants are eligible for up to 54 days of good time credit. Only those sentenced for more than a year are eligible for good time credit.

Both Schmeltz and Gray are eligible.

If awarded good time credit, Schmeltz would serve 312 days in prison and Gray would serve just more than 2 1/2 years.

Both men requested that they serve their time in the federal prison in nearby Milan, Mich. The prison is classified as a medium to low-level facility and does not house those sentenced to life in prison.

In addition to family, several sheriff's office employees attended the sentencing, including Sheriff Telb. The sheriff sat in the crowded federal courtroom during the lengthy sentencing but left quickly and without comment after the judge issued the prison terms.

Attorneys for the two men also left without comment but noted that they are considering whether to file an appeal.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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