National Guard Assisting at Elkton, Inmate Video ‘Staged’

LISBON, OHIO — The National Guard has been authorized by Gov. Mike DeWine to assist medical personnel with COVID-19 cases at the Federal Correction Institution Elkton.

During his daily briefing Monday, DeWine reported he had made the move in response to a formal request for assistance at the facility, which houses nearly 2,500 inmates. He said an advance team was already on-site Monday, and the National Guard is prepared to send 26 members to the prison to augment in-house medical staff with non-COVID-19 cases as well as those who are showing symptoms.

The guardsmen will be in Elkton for seven to 10 days or until other issues arise, DeWine said, adding they will not be armed but will be assisting with medical issues only. In addition to personnel, the National Guard will be providing equipment and ambulances to the facility to help with transport in the event of a surge, the governor said.

The governor’s announcement comes on the heels of recent reports from the prison regarding positive cases of coronavirus among inmates.

On Sunday, it was reported 15 inmates were in quarantine, 20 were hospitalized outside the facility and 82 were in isolation, while three staff members had tested positive for the virus.

During an interview Monday, Joseph Mayle, president of the Law Enforcement Officers Union, said 28 inmates are currently at outside hospitals either with the disease or suspected of having it, nine of whom are currently on ventilators. There are currently 16 inmates in quarantine at the prison and 80 in isolation, a number Mayle said has been fluctuating with some inmates getting better and others becoming ill.

There have been three inmate deaths reported at outside hospitals to date.

Mayle says with U.S. Attorney General William Barr having requested federal prisons to look at releasing nonviolent offenders in light of the COVID-19 crisis, there have been 39 Elkton inmates who potentially meet the criteria for release with home confinement required, while another 21 are designated eligible to leave for a halfway house setting or full release.

All such inmates would first be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine period to make sure they are asymptomatic prior to release, Mayle stressed.

He responded to questions about a video in which an inmate at the Elkton facility expressed concern about the COVID-19 cases among inmates.

In the profanity-laced video aired on CBS News and by other media, the inmate, wearing a hospital mask, alleged that inmates were “dying left and right” inside the facility and that a tent erected on the basketball court was being used as a makeshift morgue.

The inmate, who at times removed his mask, pulled a blanket from another man lying in bed with a mask dangling from his head, breathing loudly and coughing, saying, “He’s literally dying. I don’t know what to do.”

According Mayle, “Everything that inmate said in the video was untrue. It was staged. No one has died in this institution.”

The tent referred to in the video has never been used for bodies, Mayle emphasized, saying, “It was set up for isolation. There’s nothing in the tent right now.”

He called the recording “just a publicity stunt to have something to say” in an attempt to obtain an early release. Mayle says both inmates shown in the video had been tested for COVID-19 and were negative.

It is a violation of inmates to have cell phones, according to Mayle, who said even staff members are not permitted to carry them as a security measure, and indicated the inmates can face discipline for the video.

Columbiana County COVID-19 numbers increase overall again Monday, with the Columbiana County General Health District reporting 52 positive cases, up from 40 Sunday, which includes totals from East Liverpool City Hospital, Salem Regional Medical Center and the federal prison in Elkton. There have been five deaths of county residents, which has not increased. The three Elkton inmates were apparently among those deaths.

Health department spokesman Laura Fauss confirmed, “We do have a number of cases related to the prison but were unable to divide those numbers out in our release today.”

She referred further questions to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, but it has not been updated Monday, still showing seven inmates testing positive and no staff members.

Responding to social media reports that tractor trailers have been moved into place in the county to serve a mobile morgues for COVID-19 victims, Fauss said, “We have not requested additional assistance with morgue space. I would assume the trailers are related to the utility plant construction.”

Fauss says the health district did, however, acquire a morgue response unit last year, which has not been needed at this point and is still in storage.

That mobile morgue trailer was purchased with a $43,000 Homeland Security grant secured by the Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency. It contains 18 fold-down body racks which can be used to support body trays.

It is the sixth mass casualty trailer in the state, according to the health department’s 2019 annual report, which noted the mobile morgue is “a great resource” since Columbiana County has no morgue.

Pictured: Federal Correction Institution Elkton (Source: Federal Bureau of Prisons)

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