City officials and the Mahoning County board of commissioners’ chairman don’t see how the sheriff’s decision to cancel video arraignments at the county jail saves money.
And some question Sheriff Randall Wellington’s motivation.
“It’s my understanding that it’s not a money issue,” said Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone. “It’s a dispute between the sheriff and the commissioners, and [the city is] being used as a pawn.”
“It seems like someone’s trying to use us as leverage,” said Councilman Nate Pinkard, D-3rd, a retired Mill Creek Park police chief and chairman of council’s safety committee.
Wellington wrote in a Jan. 12 letter to the city’s three municipal-court judges that the commissioners’ decision to cut his 2012 budget by 3 percent means he was forced to “re-evaluate the nonmandated functions that our department has been providing.”
In the letter, Wellington wrote that video arraignments of inmates from the jail to the city’s municipal court will end Feb. 6.
“I have no choice but to redirect the deputies that supported that function to other required tasks within jail operations,” he wrote.
Wellington couldn’t be reached late Wednesday by The Vindicator to comment on his decision.
Sammarone and other city officials as well as county Commissioner John McNally IV, a former Youngstown law director, say eliminating video arraignments won’t save money for the sheriff’s department.
The commissioner added: “I don’t see the commissioners increasing an allocation to the sheriff’s department through stunts like this.”
Agreeing with Sammarone, McNally said, “I certainly see the city used as a pawn here.”
The commissioners will meet at 1 p.m. today with city officials and Wellington to discuss the sheriff’s decision. Council’s safety committee is to meet at 5 p.m. today to talk about this further.
If video arraignments are eliminated, deputies still would have to be at the jail to turn over prisoners to Youngstown police officers and be there when the prisoners are returned after being arraigned, city officials and McNally said.
Youngstown police officers, two at a time, would have to spend time picking up and returning those prisoners to the jail rather than being on patrol or doing other police work, said Sammarone and Youngstown Police Chief Rod Foley.
“I can’t see where the savings is coming from,” Sammarone said.
“It doesn’t seem efficient to get rid of video arraignments and go back to the old-school way of arraigning prisoners,” said Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th.
Foley said his “biggest concern is safety. It’s unnecessary to do this. It’s an unnecessary risk” to transport prisoners to municipal court compared to video arraignments at the jail.