“Deadly Problems” in the Criminal Justice System Part 2: County commissioner says outdated jail contributed to inmate’s suicide

Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 10:57 AM EST
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - Trisha Ohlwine says the father of her children was mentally ill and died by suicide in the Allen County Jail.

“DEADLY PROBLEMS” PART 1: Fort Wayne woman says the criminal justice system failed the father of her children

She believes local law enforcement did not take the necessary steps to prevent the tragedy. She also believes the set-up of the jail itself contributed to his death.

“He just needed his medicine. He was in there alone and scared and seeing things and hearing things until he couldn’t take his mind anymore. And it took his life,” Trisha said.

Trisha Ohlwine
Trisha Ohlwine(free to use)

35-year-old Jonathan Ohlwine attempted suicide in the Allen County Jail on October 11. He died two days later.

A father of two, his ex-wife Trisha says he loved being a dad.

“My role as a mother was so easy because he just did everything. He was so hands on.”

She says he was also a diagnosed schizophrenic, who had been treated at Parkview Behavioral Health.

She says he had run-ins with Fort Wayne police and served time in prison before his most recent arrest.

Captured on body camera video obtained by 21Investigates, police say Ohlwine was walking in and out of traffic downtown on September 12.

They say he punched an officer.

During the arrest, you can hear Ohlwine tell officers about his mental state.

“I’m a schizophrenic,” he said.

Police took him to the hospital and then to jail.

Jonathan Ohlwine
Jonathan Ohlwine(free to use)

“It’s just not safe. It’s harmful, it’s dangerous and they’re just not equipped, not only for the mentally ill, but for nobody,” Trisha said.

Allen County Sheriff Troy Hershberger concedes there are problems with the current jail.

“When you asked if we’re equipped for it, we do what we can with what we have,” Hershberger said.

He points out the jail was built more than forty years ago—in 1981.

“We’re not a hospital. What we were originally designed for was a temporary holding facility for pre-trial detainees, as well as sentenced misdemeanors.”

There’s currently a class action suit against the county.

It claims “Prisoners are not adequately monitored by staff.”

It cites a linear set-up which creates blind spots or poor sight lines, making it harder for officers to keep an eye on inmates.

21Investigates reporter Julian Teekaram asked Sheriff Hershberger if inmates and officers will be safer if sight lines are improved in the new jail.

“Obviously, a modern structure makes it a little bit easier for us, where one person isn’t forced to watch in a linear jail like what we have,” Hershberger said.

Sheriff Troy Hershberger
Sheriff Troy Hershberger(free to use)

Jonathan Ohlwine’s family believes poor sight lines made it hard to keep him safe.

Teekaram caught up with County Commissioner Therese Brown to see if she thought poor sight lines may have contributed to Ohlwine’s death.

“Absolutely,” Brown said.

Brown is adamant the county needs a new jail.

“Every individual that’s incarcerated, whether guilty or pre-trial, deserves to have a place to be in that their safety is of the utmost importance.”

Allen County Commissioner Therese Brown
Allen County Commissioner Therese Brown(free to use)

Trisha Ohlwine is worried about the inmates who are inside right now.

Even if the county started digging today, a new jail wouldn’t be finished for years.

“It should be shut down until they can take care of the inmates,” Trisha said.

Family members say Ohlwine should have been sent to a behavioral health facility instead of jail. A place they say was not set up to properly care for him.

“I just want to make sure that I fight and that there’s change so it will make some kind of difference,” Trisha said.

21Investigates reporter Julian Teekaram
21Investigates reporter Julian Teekaram(free to use)

An incident report obtained by 21Investigates says investigators retrieved copies of video from Ohlwine’s cell block.

21investigates has requested a copy of that video.

The sheriff’s department tells us they can’t release it yet because the matter is still under investigation.

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