County calls emergency meeting; confirms two inmate deaths

By Dean Wright -

GALLIPOLIS — Gallia County Commissioners, the Gallia Sheriff’s Office and Gallia Prosecutor’s Office held an emergency meeting in the Gallia Courthouse, Monday, where officials confirmed the recent deaths of two inmates who had previously been housed in the Gallia Jail.

“We’ve had some issues in the jail that started last week and we’ve got another issue here,” said Gallia Commissioner David Smith. “We’ve got Jason (Jason Holdren, Gallia Prosecutor) as far as our legal counsel. We’re going to go into executive session, in part I believe to work on a statement we’re going to give, and making sure we’re doing everything we can do to address the issue down there…It’s unfortunate.“

According to a statement released after the meeting by the Gallia Sheriff’s Office, “The first incident occurred on September 14, 2019, when an inmate at the Gallia County Jail was found unresponsive in his cell from a self-inflicted injury. Jail and medical personnel responded immediately to his assistance and as a result, the inmate was transported to Holzer Medical Center where he was later transferred to Grant Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. On September 16, 2019, David ‘Tommy’ Gibson, age 27 of Patriot, Ohio, passed away from his injuries. The second incident occurred on September 23, 2019, at approximately 5:30 a.m. when jail personnel were summoned by other inmates to assist Lacey Wolford, age 35 of Bidwell, Ohio, who was suffering from a medical condition. Emergency responders including EMS personnel along with deputies and police officers from the Gallipolis Police Department responded to help the inmate, however, their efforts to save Wolford were unsuccessful. Gallia County Sheriff Matt Champlin stated that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) was contacted immediately in both incidents and responded to the jail to conduct an independent investigation of both deaths…”

Having raised issue with the county’s aging 70-year-old jail in the courthouse basement as a safety concern with overcrowding inmate populations due in part to the opioid epidemic, Gallia Commissioners began talks of constructing a new jail in March of this year. Commissioners have said they are budgeting roughly $10 million for the facility and looking at a variety of options to finance it.

As cited from a previous article printed Sept. 3 in the Gallipolis Daily Tribune, “The county purchased a parking lot from the City of Gallipolis earlier in the year along Second Avenue, next to the Second Avenue Gallia Courthouse parking lot, for $264,000 along with a plot of land from the French Art Colony for $30,000 which holds a small garage. The county also purchased the old law office of Bill Conley next to the old city parking lot for $350,000. Commissioners have heavily discussed utilizing this area, along with part of the Gallia Courthouse parking lot along First Avenue, as the new jail build site. Commissioners also discussed potentially connecting the new facility to the courthouse with a walkway for security measures and to cut down on inmate transportation costs. The target square footage for the new jail facility is over 59,500 square feet utilizing rough estimates from the Gallia Auditor’s webpage mapping software.”

“We are constantly facing a battle in our (corrections system),” said Champlin previously in March. “We are daily running transports all over the state of Ohio as far away as Van Wert County just to accommodate our needs of housing prisoners. Since 2016, we’ve seen a big increase in our daily average population. In 2018, our daily average population was around 86 (inmates) per day. The vast majority of those we’re having to outsource (to corrections facilities out of county)…The criminal element has changed over the last 70 years and the type of prisoner we’re holding.”

Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342.

By Dean Wright