Ohio jail from where 4 men escaped plagued by prison breaks, inmate deaths

Two inmates have died in Gallia County Jail in the last two weeks, and there have been three escapes since August.

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By Ben Kesslen

When Gallia County Sheriff Matt Champlin asked if anyone had questions about the four inmates who had escaped Sunday from the county jail, Sherry Russell, a local nurse practitioner, raised her hand.

“Do you have the camera fixed? The new camera system that was not functioning when my son was found hanging in your jail,” Russell asked at the press conference Sunday.

Champlin offered his condolences to her and said the system had been fixed, but acknowledged that his jail has a problem. “It was not built to house the type of population we have,” he said during the exchange.

Since August, Gallia County Jail in rural Southeastern Ohio has had three escapes from its 22-bed facility, and two of the jail’s inmates have died in the last two weeks.

Russell’s son, David Thomas Gibson, or Tommy as she called the 27-year-old father of two, struggled with meth use. Russell was concerned for her son, whose substance use had caused him to become violent with her and his wife. “We decided we needed to take some drastic steps to get him in a place where he would be forced to be clean,” Russell told NBC News.

The two women filed domestic violence charges against Gibson and he was booked into Gallia County Jail on Sept. 8, Russell said.

Russell used to be the practitioner who provided medication to inmates at the jail, she said, and thought her son could get detox medication he needed while being forced to reckon with his issues. But Sept. 14, Gibson attempted to take his own life. He was taken to the hospital but died two days later.

“I handed them my son on a platter so he could get some help, and now he’s dead,” Russell said.

David "Tommy" Thomas Gibson, 27, died by suicide in Gallia County Jail. He is one of two inmates to die at the small jail in September.Courtesy of Sherry Russell

Although Russell has met with Champlin to discuss her son’s death, she says she still has unanswered questions, and believes there are clearly systemic problems at the jail.

She said her son called her Sept. 13 and told her he was contemplating suicide.

“His detox should have started earlier,” said Russell, who believes Gallia County wasn’t quick enough to provide her son with a medical check. Russell also doesn’t understand why the cameras that were supposed to be monitoring her son weren’t working, why he had materials he could use to take his own life when they knew he was a danger to himself, and why it took police so long to find him.

“I feel foolish that I trusted that he would get good care in the jail,” she said. “We had the charges to keep him in there, he could've been bonded out, but we wanted him to get clean.”

Georgia Chapman, whose brother Lacey Wolford died in Gallia County Jail about a week after Gibson, has questions too. Chapman said she knows her brother had struggled with drug use, but she wants to know more about how he died.

In the press conference, Champlin said Wolford appears to have died from an overdose.

“How did the drugs get in there?” Chapman asked, telling NBC News the sheriff’s announcement at the Sunday press conference was the first time she got confirmation her brother’s cause of death was an overdose. “They haven’t even contacted me,” she said.

NBC News reached out to the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office about the deaths of Gibson and Wolford, who referred all question to Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The Bureau confirmed it is investigating both deaths, but said it is not releasing further details at this time as both investigations remain open.

Champlin spoke at the press conference about the many issues plaguing his facility, calling it “outdated” and “insufficient.”

The four prisoners who escaped were able to overpower two female corrections officers with a shank they made and fled in a stolen car. Authorities caught all four men in North Carolina by Monday afternoon following a regionwide manhunt. One of the four had previously escaped from the jail earlier this month.

Explaining how the escape happened, Champlin said he has nine full-time employees, three of whom are currently off work due to injuries sustained at the jail. He also said it is difficult to find employees when his hiring pool is shrinking and the job only pays $11 to $15 an hour.

“I take full responsibility for the success and the failures that happen on our watch,” Champlin said.

Kimberly New, of Gallia County, was also present at the press conference. She and her friends held up signs, asking for answers about the care her son received at the jail, according to ABC-affiliate WCHS.

New told WCHS that her son was brought to the Ohio State University Medical Center in critical condition with head trauma shortly after being jailed at Gallia County last week.

Her sign, which read, “What happened to my child?” resonated with many.