Kimball Perry reports:
Rose-Ann “Rosie” Christen turned her son in to police, hoping time behind bars would help him kick a heroin habit that led him to commit crimes to support his addiction.
Instead, she said, son James Barton found drugs easily inside the Hamilton County Justice Center. Four inmates, in fact, tested positive for cocaine April 13, the same day 23-year-old Barton died in jail and just days after those inmates and Barton served on a work detail in Over-the-Rhine.
Christen is furious. “I’m the one who turned him in to get him in detox,” she said.
“I was counting on the government to take care of him and to get him through detox.”
Barton’s death has resulted in a growing concern about the availability of drugs inside the jail and sweeping changes to the way work details are used.
What caused Barton’s death won’t be known until toxicology reports are returned to the coroner, and that isn’t expected until July. Until then, it’s unknown whether Barton, who entered the Justice Center Feb. 12, died of a drug overdose, as his mom alleges.
Chief Deputy Sheriff Mark Schoonover said the jail doesn’t keep track of how many inmates it tests for drugs or the results of the testing, but said drugs inside the jail have become a concern. Still, Schoonover doubts Barton’s death is related to the work detail, where inmates could have gotten their hands on drugs.
Schoonover noted Barton was on the work detail six days before he died.
“It’s possible there is no direct connection between this inmate and the others (who tested positive). It could also turn out that the deceased inmate had no drugs in his system,” Schoonover said.
Barton grew up in Mason and Deer Park as a good kid, his mom said, until he got involved in drugs. He’s been to prison and was in the Justice Center on 18 charges of misuse of credit cards, forgery, burglary, theft and receiving stolen property when he died.
He was accused of stealing credit cards from lockers in gyms, and patients’ wallets and purses at doctors’ and dentists’ offices and using them for his personal use. That was alleged to have happened from October 2012 until February when his mom turned him in to police.
She spoke to her son the afternoon of April 13, about eight hours before he was found in bed by his cellmate, who said Barton was cold to the touch. Barton had blood and vomit in his mouth when found, jail records indicate. Barton didn’t respond a few hours earlier when his anti-depression medication was being dispensed. Life-saving measures were unsuccessful.
“I still don’t believe it,” she said. “How can he gets drugs in jail?”
Schoonover, in his job since January when Jim Neil became sheriff, has similar questions about the four inmates on the same work detail as Barton who tested positive for cocaine use. Minutes after Barton’s death was discovered, Schoonover said, a jail-wide search was conducted with nine drug-sniffing dogs. Nothing was found, a sheriff’s spokesman said. The sheriff’s office is investigating the death.
Barton refused to take a drug test between the time he was outside the jail on a work detail and his death, Schoonover said. “That’s a red flag right there,” he noted.
Barton’s mom believes her son was killed by a drug overdose and blames jailers for allowing drugs into the jail.
“I need to know what happened. None of this makes sense,” Christen said.