Franklin County jail adds body scanner to curb contraband; family of dead inmate questions timing

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COLUMBUS - Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin unveiled an x-ray body scanner Thursday he said would help his department prevent drugs or weapons from being smuggled into the jail.

“It gives us a greater tool to detect anything that might come through,” Baldwin told reporters. “This facility houses in the neighborhood of 1500 to 1600 inmates. Anytime contraband – a weapon or narcotics – comes in, it’s a danger to anybody in here. It’s a danger to employees. It’s a danger to the other inmates.”

Deputies are still training on the body scanner at the Franklin County Jail II Jackson Pike location. It could be placed into operation later this month though there is no official timetable, sheriffs officials said.

Baldwin said he had initially hoped to purchase two body scanners for the county – including one for the downtown jail. But with the new jail in the works, Baldwin said the department opted to just purchase one for roughly $124,000.

The scanner will primarily be used to scan inmates - not visitors or deputies.

Baldwin said the planning for the scanner has been in the works for some time and began during former Sheriff Zach Scott’s administration.

“It’s a long process. You can’t just go buy one of these off the shelf. It has to be budgeted way ahead of time. It has to be approved by the commissioner and then researched to make sure that’s the correct item,” he said.

But the timing of its public unveiling comes 90 days after the overdose death of a Franklin County inmate.

Coroner’s records show Brent Gibney died from a fentanyl overdose in October while he was awaiting trial on for a robbery charge. A white powdery substance was discovered but how the drugs got into the jail remains part of an internal investigation.

Brent’s parents told 10 Investigates this week they were pleased to learn the department had purchased the scanner but wished it had come sooner.

“I am glad they did this. I wish they would have done it a little sooner and maybe our son Brent would still be alive,” Debbie Gibney told 10 Investigates during an interview. “It’s too late for him but maybe this will prevent it from happening to somebody else in the future.”

While Baldwin’s department made clear the planning has been in the works for some time, records obtained by 10 Investigates show the purchase of the device happened in July 2017. What’s more – the vendor said it could promise delivery and installation within 45 days.

The vendor, OD Security North America, was approved by the state to begin selling its device in March of 2017. Reached by phone, John Shannon, the president of OD Security North America told 10 Investigates the sheriff’s department’s body scanner was custom built for the space at the Franklin County Jail II location which delayed the process.

When asked about the timing and the concern of the Gibney’s, Baldwin said:

“Well that particular case we’ve been notified by attorneys of an intent to sue so really can’t speak to that particular case, but what I can say is that anytime narcotics or contraband comes in it’s a threat – no matter who brings it in – But there is a responsibility too,” he said.

Baldwin said he doesn’t think there is a “widespread” or “epidemic” problem with contraband in the Franklin County jail.

A department spokesman did not answer follow-up questions via phone or email about how frequently narcotics or weapons have been discovered in the jail or if there had been a recent uptick.

“They come in all the time. Every jail suffers from narcotics coming into the jail – the type of narcotics coming in – fentanyl specifically it is so small, so minute. And you can hide it in so many places. And when you are restricted on how you can search people coming in – it makes it really difficult,” Baldwin told 10 Investigates.

Currently, there are at least 33 Ohio county jails using body scanners, according to the state.