Thursday, March 4, 2021

Cleveland jail releases mentally ill inmate on winter night without coat or cellphone

Cuyahoga County Jail officials, in Cleveland, Ohio released Jose Irizarry, 40, in the middle of a cold and windy November night without a coat or his cellphone. Cleveland police believe he ended up in Lake Erie three hours later, and his body still hasn’t been found, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

Cinthia Irizarry was glad when her older brother Jose called and said he was going to get released from the Cuyahoga County Jail. She knew firsthand about the jail’s poor conditions and what that might mean for someone like her brother, who lived with schizophrenia and bipolar personality disorder.

She was eager to bring him home, especially since jail staff told her that her brother exhibited some suicidal tendencies during his stay. Her brother also told her that medical officials there gave him medicine he did not recognize.

She waited for the call to pick him up, but it never came.

The experience left Cinthia Irizarry, 39, wondering what happened to her brother, especially after she found letters he wrote from his cell about the jail conditions, where the inadequate care of inmates with mental illness has led to several deaths and lawsuits in the last three years.

“It’s horrible,” Cinthia Irizarry said. “I can’t imagine. I wouldn’t treat an animal like this. How are you going to release him in the middle of the night like that?”

Many of the letters, written in Spanish, are incoherent. In some, he talked about how his time in jail left him feeling tortured. In others, he talked about dreaming about death.

“I had a dream they would kill me,” he wrote in one letter. In another, he said, “These nightmares about death [are] almost daily.”

Cuyahoga County spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan did not comment on Irizarry’s death, nor did officials respond to detailed questions about the circumstances surrounding his time in jail and his release.

Jail policy dictates that an in-custody jail death triggers investigations into what happened to correct any issues that led to the death. The county doesn’t consider Irizarry’s death a jail death, but jail administrators could, in theory, conduct a similar investigation.

Madigan would not say if the county will ever conduct a similar review of Irizarry’s time in jail before he disappeared.

A study conducted over two years published in January by Disability Rights Ohio advocacy group found that Cuyahoga County inmates with mental illnesses often struggle to gain access to treatment and medication, especially in the first few days after entering the jail.

Attorneys for the county and MetroHealth issued a 12-page rebuttal to the report that said DRO relied “on outdated and unsupported information” and that the report “will only serve to confuse stakeholders as to the actual current state of affairs” in the jail.

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