Sheriff Wellington sticks to his guns on video-arraignments

By Peter H. Milliken


With video arraignment of jail inmates for Youngstown Municipal Court scheduled to end Feb. 6, city and county officials agreed the safety of the jail, the courts, deputy sheriffs and city police is a top priority for everyone.

But that’s about all they agreed on.

Mahoning County Sheriff Randall A. Wellington recently told city and county officials that, due to an insufficient budget, he must shift his deputies away from video arraignment and into other jail functions.

The sheriff, who operates the jail, said he needs $1.1 million in addition to the $14.1 million he has been allocated by the county commissioners this year to recall 23 of his 37 laid-off deputies to enable video arraignments to continue.

“We need 23 employees to be brought back just to run the jail at the size that it is today” and keep everyone safe, while keeping two prisoner housing units closed, said Maj. Alki Santamas of the sheriff’s department.

Wellington denied assertions by city officials that the city is being used as a pawn in his budget dispute with the county commissioners.

In a Thursday county commissioners’ staff meeting, the sheriff said he needs to reassign the two deputies now assigned to video arraignments elsewhere in the jail to allow the jail to meet minimum standards, including supervising the required inmate recreation.

Those deputies also are needed to relieve other deputies working in the prisoner housing units, he said. “My bottom line is the safety of my officers,” the sheriff said of the need to properly staff the jail.

Judge Elizabeth Kobly of Youngstown Municipal Court said she would rather have city police enter the county jail to provide security for video arraignments of inmates than have city police transport inmates from jail to court and back.

“We can look at it,” the sheriff replied.

However, Wellington said the Fraternal Order of Police collective-bargaining units representing city police and county deputies may not agree to allow city police to work in the jail, which is under deputies’ union jurisdiction.

Commissioner John A. McNally IV, chairman of the commissioners, and Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti said they believe city police and deputy sheriffs should be able to resolve this jurisdictional issue in the interests of safety for everyone involved.

McNally said he believes the sheriff’s current funding “is more than sufficient” to allow video arraignments to continue.

Judge Kobly said having city police physically transport inmates from jail to court and back would create a security nightmare in the already crowded municipal court.

“The city of Youngstown is facing a safety crisis here,” she said, adding that she was “very disappointed” that a compromise could not be reached Thursday.

If inmates are physically present as families of the inmates and crime victims co-mingle in the court’s cramped quarters, the security challenges are greatly increased, she said. “The emotions run higher at arraignment than at any other court appearance, so the likelihood for violence is at its peak,” she added.

City Councilman Nathaniel Pinkard, D-3rd, retired Mill Creek MetroParks police chief, said transporting inmates is a dangerous activity, and he reminded city and county officials that Deputy Sonny Litch was killed in 1981 while transporting an inmate in downtown Youngstown.

City Police Chief Rod Foley warned city and county officials they would be “just rolling the dice” and “just waiting for a disaster to happen” if jail inmates must be physically brought to municipal court for arraignment. “Keep prisoners locked up in jail where they need to be” and continue arraigning them by video, he urged.

Video arraignments of jail inmates are conducted at 10:30 a.m. every business day and last from 15 minutes to two hours, depending on the number of inmates to be arraigned. Youngstown Municipal Court, which started video arraignments more than 12 years ago, is the only court for which the jail now provides video arraignments.

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