Deputies still transporting some prisoners to Municipal Court

LISBON –While East Liverpool police have begun transporting Columbiana County jail inmates to and from hearings at the city’s municipal court, the county sheriff’s office decided to continue providing the service for county municipal court in Lisbon.

Sheriff Ray Stone reported Thursday his deputies are providing inmate transportation services for county municipal court despite plans to quit doing so for all municipal courts starting Jan. 1. Stone declined to get into specifics other than to say he was “advised” to continue the practice of transporting inmates to county municipal court.

The newspaper contacted county Commissioner Mike Halleck, who said Stone agreed to continue the practice after discussing the matter with him.

“The sheriff decides what his responsibilities are under the law. However, we felt there was a more amenable way to resolve the situation,” Halleck said. “It was a coordinated effort between the judges, commissioners and the sheriff.”

The sheriff’s office is not required by law to provide court transportation services for inmates charged with misdemeanors by other police departments, although it has done so for 33 years. In an effort to save money after his 2018 budget was frozen by commissioners at 2016 levels, Stone sent letters in September to area police departments advising them his deputies would no longer transport inmates to and from municipal court hearings and that it would be their responsibility starting in 2018. Stone is not only concerned about the expense but the fact his deputies are often tied up in court for several hours.

East Liverpool responded by purchasing a van to begin transporting inmates charged by city police officers to court hearings starting Jan. 1. The city made its first run Thursday, transporting three inmates to hearings at municipal court in East Liverpool.

Stone estimated East Liverpool, which is located 20 miles or so from the county jail, accounted for about half of his court runs. He said they generally transport at least 10 inmates to the East Liverpool court on hearing days. Since 2011, the sheriff’s office had contracted with the courts to provide transportation services for $5 per inmate. Stone said East Liverpool paid $339 for the service in 2017, while county municipal court paid the sheriff’s office $2,346.

Meanwhile, Halleck indicated commissioners are working on a long-term solution, especially in regard to East Liverpool. “All I can say we’re in conversation with East Liverpool,” he said.

In related news, a state law that takes effect March 23 gives sheriffs the option of contracting with municipal courts to provide inmate transportation services. This was in response to a 2017 Ohio attorney general’s opinion that held such contracts were illegal.