Trial set for next week in a case involving the overdose death of a Scioto County jail inmate

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — A man charged with providing the drugs that led to an overdose death of a Scioto County jail inmate is scheduled for trial next week.

Perry Steele faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and trafficking in a fentanyl-related compound in the June 2022 death of Cory Cantrell.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by a member of Cantrell’s family against Scioto County and several officials is moving through federal court and may go trial around this time next year.

Perry Steele
Perry Steele [Scioto County Sheriff’s Office]
The lawsuit alleges that guards failed to thoroughly search Steele before he was put in a jail cell with Cantrell.

Cantrell was serving time for a probation violation and had already overdosed on opioids two months earlier in the jail and was given Narcan, which saved his life, according to the lawsuit. Shortly after that, he was moved to a holding cell near the jail’s intake area so that jail staff could keep a closer eye on him.

Steele was searched before he was placed in the cell with Cantrell. But the search did not discover he had some fentanyl in his possession, which he shared with Cantrell and other inmates in the cell, according to the lawsuit.

Jail staff failed to provide Cantrell with timely treatment despite being told repeatedly by the other inmates that Cantrell was in trouble, the lawsuit alleges. They also allegedly failed to give Cantrell Narcan or request medical help.

Jail administrators knew there was an ongoing issue of drugs being smuggled into the jail, but “failed to take adequate steps to prevent the ongoing flow of opioids and drugs into the Jail, and to prevent the frequent consumption of opioids and drugs by the Jail’s inmates,” according to the lawsuit.

Cleveland civil rights attorney Sarah Gelsomino, who is not involved with the case, offered some legal perspective on the lawsuit.

“Just because a person is incarcerated … the 14th Amendment protects him,” she said. “That’s a constitutional amendment that protects people that are held pre-trial. Prison officials have to take the steps not only to train supervisor people, but to enact policies that will protect the safety of inmates who are in their current custody.”

Gelsomino said jail overdose cases are common and have settled in favor of the plaintiff, and law enforcement needs to be held accountable for doing their jobs effectively.

“Anytime there is a question about whether corrections officers are giving access to appropriate medical care for inmates who are in distress and in their care in custody, that is a question that needs to be interrogated,” she said.

The defendants’ attorney, Andrew Yosowitz, provided the following statement about the lawsuit:

“The safety of inmates and staff is the top priority at the Scioto County Jail. To keep drugs and other contraband out of the jail, certified corrections officers (1) use a body scanner, (2) search and frisk inmates, (3) conduct cell searches and (4) refer individuals who attempt to convey unauthorized substances or items into the jail for criminal prosecution.”

Yosowitz said there is no procedure that can detect all contraband.

“In this case,” he said, “Mr. Cantrell passed away after using drugs that another inmate was able to smuggle in — even though that inmate had been body scanned.”

Yosowitz noted that Steele is being held accountable for the death.

“We hope that Mr. Cantrell’s family obtains justice from the criminal system, but we do not believe that Mr. Cantrell’s family is entitled to taxpayer money in this civil suit.”