Sheriff’s decision in death of inmate upheld by arbitrator

by Long Hwa-shu

An arbitrator has upheld Lake County Sheriff’s terminations of corrections officers Rodney Holems, Robert Schlesser and Lilia Cruz, and the demotion of Sgt. Lance Ware for their actions relating to the death of inmate Eugene Gruber.

Gruber sustained a broken neck while struggling with corrections officers after arriving at the jail on Oct. 31, 2011.  He died on March 3, 2012.

“Inmates have the right to be treated fairly and humanely while in custody at the Lake County Jail and I, as your sheriff, will stand for nothing less.” – Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran

Subsequently, Sheriff Mark Curran called for an independent investigation into the actions surrounding Gruber’s injury.  After reviewing the findings of the investigation, Curran and Undersheriff Ray Rose disciplined several correctional employees involved.  The disciplines issued including terminations and demotion went into arbitration with Edwin H. Benn as the arbitrator.

In addition to termination, Holmes and Schlesser were criminally charged with official misconduct.  Schlesser died before his case went to trial.  Holmes was found not guilty after a bench trial.

“We have taken many steps to prevent another tragedy like this.  In addition to the discipline imposed, we’ve done a complete update of policies and operational procedures in the jail,” said Sheriff Curran.

“Inmates have the right to be treated fairly and humanely while in custody at the Lake County Jail and I, as your sheriff, will stand for nothing less,” he added.

Undersheriff Ray Rose said, “Arbitrator Benn appropriately upheld the terminations and demotion.  I firmly agree with arbitrator Benn’s statement, ‘…the fact that Holmes was found not guilty in the criminal proceedings does not automatically mean that he did not engage in misconduct in this case.’ The Lake County Sheriff’s Office will simply not tolerate excessive force or untruthful reporting from our employees.”

Since this incident, the sheriff’s office conducted a complete audit and rewrite of all jail policies by Undersheriff Rose and corrections Chief Dave Wathen.  The sheriff’s office also sought outside validation of the jail’s policies and protocols. As a result, it has been accredited by the American Correctional Association as well as the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.

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