City hall prepares to take over video arraignments

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Youngstown Municipal Court Administrator George Denney stands in the area of the police department’s fifth floor, where video arraignments will begin Monday. The city will spend $22,000 for a new videoarraignment system after the Mahoning County sheriff decided to end the practice at the county jail.

Cases will be tried by video from the City Hall jail

By David Skolnick


With the Mahoning County sheriff eliminating video arraignments, starting Monday, at the county justice center for Youngstown Municipal Court, the city is taking steps to switch the process to the old city jail.

Mayor Charles Sammarone is sponsoring legislation at Wednesday’s council meeting seeking approval to spend $22,000 for a new video-arraignment system.

Prisoners being arraigned in Youngstown would be transported to and from the county jail by city police to the fifth floor of the police station. The fifth floor is the long-closed city jail location.

“This will work,” said Elizabeth A. Kobly, the court’s presiding and administrative judge. “We are being proactive.”

Sheriff Randall Wellington informed the municipal court judges Jan. 12 that video arraignments at the county jail would stop, effective next Monday; he blamed insufficient staffing and inadequate funding for the move. Some city officials and county Commissioner John McNally IV have questioned Wellington’s motives, saying he’s doing it to get more money from the commissioners for his office’s budget.

Some of the wiring for the new video- arraignment system was installed Monday and the work will be done by next Monday.

“I have no expectation [the sheriff and commissioners] will work this out,” Judge Kobly said. “We hope for the best and plan for the worst.”

If an agreement is reached to keep video arraignments at the county jail, the city will have a backup system in place at the police station, said Police Chief Rod Foley.

Council is being asked Wednesday to use $22,000 to hire SKC Communication Products LLC of Shawnee Mission, Kan., for the video-arraignment system.

The $22,000 would come from the court’s computerization fund.

Those convicted and fined in city court pay a small assessment to the computerization fund.

With the new set-up, the schedule for video arraignments is changing.

Rather than having them Monday through Friday around 10:30 a.m., arraignments will be at 1:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Judge Kobly said.

If one of those days is a holiday, another day during that week would be chosen for video arraignments, she said.

The city police force currently has three officers assigned to the jail unit, Foley said.

They are responsible for transporting prisoners to and from the county jail to the city court, located on the third floor of the police station, for preliminary hearings, trials and probation-violation hearings, Foley said.

They will also be responsible for prisoner arraignments, he said.

The police department plans to take one officer off of patrol for about six hours a week to join the other three for the new video-arraignment system, Foley said.

After a few weeks, the police department will access if other officers are needed for video arraignments, he said.

“It’s a drain on our resources,” Foley said of the new plan. “It takes a beat officer off the road. It hurts our visibility on the streets.”

A patrol officer earns $26.15 an hour on average.

At six hours a week, the police department would be diverting about $7,500 for the rest of this year from patrol work to transporting prisoners to and from the county jail for video arraignments.

The prisoners will continue to be video arraigned rather than have them come to the courtrooms for safety reasons, Judge Kolby said.

The courtrooms are small and such close quarters that violence could occur, she said.

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