The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

January 6, 2012

DeWine says OHP to probe cases in Conneaut prison

CONNEAUT —  There’s another new development in the Conneaut prison policing saga, a tale already filled with more twists than an Agatha Christie mystery.

Attorney General Mike DeWine, in a Wednesday letter, has ruled the Lake Erie Correctional Institution — even though sold to a private security company at the end of 2011 — remains a state institution and therefore can be served by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

The news appears to relieve the Conneaut Police Department of investigatory duties inside the prison, which had been a big concern to city officials. Indeed, the OHP apparently has already resumed the law enforcement role it had held inside the prison since it opened nearly 12 years ago.

“We’re continuing to perform our investigative duties,” Lt. Anne Ralston, OHP spokesperson in Columbus, said Thursday.

The latest wrinkle comes via a letter from DeWine to Thomas P. Charles, director of Ohio’s Department of Public Safety. In the two-page letter, DeWine cites several sections of the Ohio Revised Code bolstering the belief the LaECI “remains a state institution...and thus the State Highway Patrol retains general law enforcement authority.”

On Tuesday, the attorney general’s office issued a memorandum to the ODPS regarding the prison situation. In response, the ODPS asked whether the OHP can retain its authority at the prison. Yes, DeWine replied, saying the Ohio Revised Code provides that a state correctional facility, even if in the hands of a private contractor, “shall be considered for purposes of the Revised Code as being under the control of, or under the jurisdiction of, the department of rehabilitation and correction,” he said.

Other provisions of the code back up that opinion, DeWine said in the letter.

After seeing the police duties volley back and forth between the city and the OHP, City Manager Tim Eggleston greeted the latest development with cautious optimism. “My understanding is the troopers will be in the prison, but it’s got to go through a process,” he said Thursday.

Police Chief Charles Burlingham had not heard of DeWine’s ruling when contacted by a reporter, but was encouraged by the news. Late last year Burlingham added a second detective to his department in anticipation of prison-related investigations. As of early Thursday afternoon, no Conneaut officer had been asked to investigate a case at LaECI.

Law Director David Schroeder was away from his office on Thursday and could not be immediately reached for comment.

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