Kimball Perry reports:
James Barton died from a toxic mix of heroin, likely brought in by fellow inmates at the Hamilton County Justice Center, and prescription drugs he hoarded, but the only blame for his April 13 death belongs to him.
That was the conclusion of a Sheriff’s Office report released Tuesday to The Enquirer that detailed how a 23-year-old man in jail for two months died from a drug overdose involving illegal and prescription drugs.
“This was an unfortunate and tragic situation that could have been avoided if James Barton made the right decision by not taking the heroin and avoiding anything that could cause him harm,” noted the report, authored by Sheriff’s Sgt. William Rarrick.
Sheriff’s officials admit they can be better at preventing drugs from entering the 1,240-bed facility. But they also admit no matter what they do, drugs likely will continue to get in.
“We can’t stop it all. We have too many variables we can’t control,” Rarrick said.
Rarrick conducted the internal investigation after Barton was found dead in his cell the night of April 13. The report noted the coroner concluded Barton died from an overdose of heroin and the drugs Barton was prescribed for depression, hypertension and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Barton, Rarrick’s report concluded, hoarded his prescription medication that he then ground up and snorted. Hours before he died, Barton had a bloody nose, telling jailers it was because of dry air in his pod. Documents show Barton also had codeine and morphine in his system when he died.
“There was no suicide note, nor any indication that he was contemplating taking his own life. It appears that James Barton was looking to get high on his own accord and that high took his life,” Rarrick wrote.
That report also noted two ways inmates have been bringing drugs into the jail:
• Trusted inmates were allowed to work on details outside of the jail. In the weeks before his death, Barton and other inmates worked to clean up parts of Over-the-Rhine. Inmates admitted to Rarrick they had drugs brought to areas they were cleaning and smuggled the drugs into the jail. Six days before he died, Barton was asked to take a drug test by jailers but refused.
After his death, the sheriff’s office stopped letting inmates leave the jail to work details. Those details now are being worked by “detainees,” those who have been arrested but have yet to see a judge or be processed into the jail;
• Inmates being processed into the jail drop small amounts of drugs on the floor before they are searched. They kick the drugs into a corner where inmate porters, whose job is to clean the intake area, quickly sweep up and hide the drugs to sell or trade among the inmate population.
Rarrick believes this as plausible partly because two inmates who tested positive for cocaine never left the jail.
The report could cause changes to the jail.
“Do we need to revisit our current polices? Sure we do,” Sheriff’s spokesman Jim Knapp said of battling drugs getting into the jail. “Every policy is being looked at.”
Still, the report left Rose-Ann “Rosie” Christen, Barton’s mother, dismayed.
“You’ve got to blame the people that’s letting them get the drugs in there,” Christen said after hearing part of Rarrick’s report on her son’s April 13 death.
“If you have a drug problem and someone is sitting there offering you drugs and you’re having withdrawals, you’re going to take it. If the drugs wasn’t in there, he would have detoxed.”