By Ed Runyan
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation will arrive this morning to investigate the five-hour hostage taking of a corrections officer at the Trumbull County jail.
The investigation will determine what charges to file against the three men who took officer Joe Lynn hostage Wednesday afternoon in the isolation pod where they were being held. Sheriff Thomas Altiere said it appears that the men used plastic spoons to make the weapon they held against the officer’s neck.
The ordeal ended about 8:30 p.m. when Lt. Jeff Cole of the Warren Police Department, a hostage negotiator, talked the inmates into giving up.
Meanwhile, the sheriff said among the likely changes that may need to occur is the changing of handles on the inside of the doors to certain cell areas, since Wednesday’s ordeal involved the inmates’ using knotted sheets to hold the door to the pod closed and prevent entry by law enforcement.
Altiere praised Lynn for his intelligence and the way he handled the situation and said Lynn is on paid administrative leave to recover from the incident. Neither Lynn nor the inmates were injured.
“He’s extremely good on the job for being here for a year,” Altiere said of Lynn.
The three inmates were taken to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, a state prison. One of the three, Kevin Johns, was awaiting transport to an Ohio prison to begin serving a 28-year prison sentence for rape and kidnapping anyway, Altiere said.
The sheriff said it could take weeks or months for BCI to complete its investigation, so it’s unclear how long it will be until charges are filed or how long the three inmates may remain outside of Trumbull County.
Altiere was asked whether a February incident involving one of the three inmates — David Martin — might explain why the trio took Lynn hostage, and Altiere denied that it played a role.
A sheriff’s office incident report said Lynn reported to supervisors that Martin had indicated to him the threat to grab a court security officer’s gun the first chance he had because “I’m not going to death row.” Martin is charged with the murder of Jeremy Cole last year in Warren and could get the death penalty.
A news report from a Cleveland television station Wednesday night indicated that Martin used Lynn’s cellphone to call the station shortly after the situation began. Lynn said he would take a lie-detector test “to tell the news media and to prove to the courts outside of my case that I never made that threat.”
Altiere said of the reports: “You can say anything you want. That doesn’t give you the right to go out and kidnap somebody and hold them hostage. As far as we’re concerned right now, that’s inconsequential to what happened yesterday.”
As for what the inmates wanted from jail personnel, Altiere said, “There weren’t any very serious demands from them. The only demand they made that we caved in to was they wanted a cigarette, so we gave them three cigarettes.”
Asked to explain why three of the jail’s most-dangerous people would be housed together in the same pod, the sheriff and his assistant warden, Eric Shay, explained that the pod is one of the smallest in the facility and therefore one of the most secure.
There were three inmates in a pod that holds four people. That fourth-floor pod consists of two cells on each of two levels and a common area containing a table. Though the men were there because of their classification as dangerous, they were not confined to their cells.
“We have state standards that our jail has to follow. We can’t put these guys on 24-hour lockdown. The state says we’re not allowed to do that,” Altiere said.
The most-dangerous inmates are kept together to avoid having them near inmates classified as less dangerous, the sheriff said.
Corrections officers are faced with dangers every day, he added. “Our office didn’t do anything wrong with the way we check these people. It’s standard. We have to realize that these people are in here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they can dream up anything.”
He added that the Trumbull County jail holds 315 inmates. “We have a lot of felons. We have a lot of bad people, and we only have so many places to put them.”
Altiere said this is the first hostage situation that has occurred during his 21-year career in charge of the Trumbull County jail.
He said he thinks the weapon the inmates used was made from plastic spoons, but the pod is now “sealed off,” and officials were unable to see inside of the cell during the standoff. His opinion of what the weapon was made from comes from video surveillance of the pod, Altiere said.
The sheriff said the incident will be a learning tool for jail personnel here and elsewhere — adding that one thing he learned is that when there’s a hostage situation like this, “You need a lot of mutual aid.”
Personnel from a variety of agencies came to help and be ready to act in a variety of ways depending on how the situation played out, such as needing to break into the pod.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Bureau of Adult Detention will review the incident as part of its annual review process, Shay said. It’s not known yet whether the incident will require more than that, he added.
Cole said the experience of negotiating with three inmates in a jail was unique for him. But trained hostage negotiators realize “every situation is different,” and arrive prepared to deal with what comes their way.
Cole said he talked to Lynn during the ordeal. Cole and another hostage negotiator were in a room separate from the inmates and Lynn, talking with them on Lynn’s portable radio and his cellphone.
“The officer — he was calm. He did a fantastic job. For being in the situation he was in, he did a fantastic job. I had the opportunity to meet him when this was over,” Cole said.
Cole said his main emotion when the standoff ended about 8:30 p.m. was gratitude. But what he did was nothing heroic, only the end result of a desire to see everyone end their day safely: “That was compassion for that officer who found himself in that situation, and I just tried to do everything I could to get him out unharmed, the rest of the responding officers ... unharmed, and the inmates themselves unharmed.”
Cole said he was prepared to stay as long as necessary. “One thing with negotiations, and we preach this, that time is always on our side. The longer it goes, the better. So time was not a problem for me, ready to engage as long as we had to engage.”