PROSECUTOR MIKE O’MALLEY SPEAKS TO THE COMMUNITY Part II
Question: And that brings me to the next question because I thank you Mr. Edwards for your question. Where is the prosecutor’s office as it pertains to mental health patients being evaluated and released from the County Jail or if they don’t need to be released from the County Jail?
O’Malley: I have been working with members of this community to try to have great diversion centers for mental health crisis facilities. The goal that I have been working in collaboration with is to have one on the Eastside and the Westside. We need to have centers where police officers can quickly bring people undergoing a mental health crisis to try to divert them away from the criminal justice system because it does no good to our community to tangle the individuals who are having mental health issues with the criminal justice system. Now obviously, if there are issues where a violent crime has been committed and they are undergoing mental health situations, there is really not much, which we can do. If the nature of the crime mandates them being held, then that is what we must do. I believe that the vast majority of these individuals don’t need the criminal justice system. They need a mental health system that works for them which can keep them on the right path, stabilizes them and allows them to lead a productive life. Getting tangled in the situation of the County Jail is not the answer nor is it what they need.
Question: Are the mentally challenged truly in a position to have proper defense, bail and finance?
O’Malley: Those who are severely mentally ill have appointed lawyers. The lawyers make the mental health issue an integral part of their defense. They have those situations where the individuals go to a facility, which is about restoration in trying to bring them back to a place of stability. Those situations come up when there is a very violent significant case. Overall, I believe what the community needs is a center where we can divert citizens away from the criminal justice system. Most of the situations are minor interactions with the criminal justice system. We are not speaking of the significant outlying cases where someone is undergoing a mental health crisis that does something significant. We’ve had situations where people undergoing a mental health crisis killed one of their parents. We are not talking about one of those situations. We are speaking of diverting the low-level mental health crisis. It needs to be that the police are trained, they are trained how to handle these situations. They have their Crisis Intervention Training. We have multiple police agencies within the county so that it is not just your local police agency or department. It could be Cleveland, one of your suburbs, RTA, Cleveland Clinic, Metro Parks… everybody needs to be properly trained so that when they have an interaction with a person who is having a mental health crisis that they know how to handle the situation. They know how to handle the people on a level where it deescalates the situation and does not increase the tension.
Question: Are we any closer to having mental health patients separated from the prisoners in the county jail so that they can be properly treated and evaluated?
O’Malley: Yes! I think that we are going down that path. I think that there is buy-in from the County Council and the County Executive and many community groups, which are pushing this issue.
Question: Are we closer to having prosecutions looked at as being criminal actions in the county jail and especially in drug overdoses in the County Jail? We have people from the outside who work in the jail bringing the drugs into the County Jail.
O’Malley: My office began looking into the issues within County Government. Due to the conflicts that were created by both the civil suits that were coming in and looking at people for criminal activity, they were crossing paths. As a result of that, I was forced to pause to see whether or not I could stay on those cases or if I should step away and I eventually had to turn some of those cases over to the State Attorney General. The Attorney General is looking at all of the cases of criminal activity, including the drug dealing and those other horrendous acts, which we saw being committed on prisoners by our officers. A vast number of the correction officers, and we are at around 650, we saw video regarding a handful. Therefore, it is unfortunate, because the vast majority of corrections officers in our county are professional dedicated servants. I know they don’t condone those actions any more than any member of the public does. It is a situation where you do not want a few bad apples to paint a poor picture of a dedicated work force. A vast majority of those CO’s is dedicated professionals and we hope that this process weeds out the bad apples.
Question: How do you process and/or develop the lines of separation as to the Prosecutor’s Office viewing an issue and turning events over to a special outside prosecutor or the Attorney General’s office? Is an event like this governed by politics, cultural favor or proper judicial action?
O’Malley: I take a step back and I look at potential for conflict. In the situation with the County Investigation, many of the individuals we were looking at being investigated were being sued so we had to make a choice. Someone has to defend them civilly. Someone has to prosecute or at least review the issues for criminal activity. My thought process in that issue is that it costs a lot of money to defend people civilly and it would have cost the county millions and millions of dollars to defend the people in a suit. The decision was made as to what was most prudent for the taxpayers. Do I defend the civil suits or stay with the criminal cases? Fiscally, it made the most sense to me to do what would be right for the taxpayers. What was best for the taxpayers in that particular case was to send those employees and attorneys out of the office, put them under the umbrella of the Attorney General, allow them to do what they needed to do for the next few years and at some point, eventually, they would return to my office. What made the most sense fiscally was to have my civil division represent all of those people so that the taxpayers were not paying millions of dollars in legal fees.