NBC4 Investigates CB Law's Most Well Known Case

NBC4 Investigates: Death Behind Bars

Posted: Feb 18, 2015 10:31 AM ESTUpdated: Feb 18, 2015 11:17 AM EST
COLUMBUS, Ohio -In isolation cell “2D” at the Franklin County jail, at 9:03 a.m. September 4, 2011, the body of 47-year-old Edward Peterson was found in a cell of filth.

A series of pictures reveal those conditions.

Pictures of Peterson's Cell

Avonte Campinha-Bacote, an attorney representing Peterson's family in a lawsuit against the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, described what those pictures revealed.

“We're talking about feces. We're talking about urine. We're talking about dozens of food trays that had been sitting there for God knows how long, with rotten food, spilled milk, things like that,” Campinha-Bacote said.

“At first my reaction was shock,” Peterson's son, Michael Gay said when learning in 2011 his dad was dead.

“I was shocked because I knew nothing concerning my father's death,” he said.

Gay says he had just found his father at that time, after searching for him for weeks. 

“It was a relief knowing that he was still alive,” Gay said, recalling the moment he learned his father was behind bars.

But Peterson would not be alive long after Gay found him.

Peterson was not a hardened criminal.  He was a man plagued by degrading physical and mental states. 

Gay says his father was diagnosed with a chronic heart condition, as well as suffering from schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.

A psychotic episode landed Peterson behind bars. He was booked and charged with a misdemeanor charge of aggravated menacing after allegedly threatening a police officer.

For nearly a month, Peterson sat in his cell, waiting for his day in court, while his physical and mental conditions spiraled.

Inside 2D, Campinha-Bacote points to documents showing Peterson actually tore apart his own mattress, wearing a chunk of it as a “polar bear suit.”

Peterson increasingly refused to leave his cell, listed in jail records as “unruly.”

PDF: Internal Affairs Report - Page 6 And 7

But those records did not reveal the condition of that cell, or the degrading condition of Peterson, himself.

Deputies claimed they cleaned out Peterson's cell on August 14 and August 27, but an internal investigation revealed there was no evidence to support that had happened.

Peterson had clearly lost control of his mental capacities, as well as his body functions. 

“I understand it's a jail but at the same time, given my father's condition, there should have been a whole lot more,” Gay said, adding, “My father was being treated like an animal.”

PDF: Internal Affairs Report - Page 37 - First Paragraph Of Conclusion

According to a report, issued after an internal affairs investigation, Peterson died from an enlarged heart.   

He was alone in his prison of filth, so wretched that Columbus Fire Department Medics, responding to the 911 call from the jail, reported the conditions to the Medical Director, who issued a city-wide “Bio Alert.”

The Medical Director also wrote to the newly-sworn-in Sheriff Zach Scott, who ordered an internal affairs investigation.

That investigation produced one of the most comprehensive reports ever conducted of a death at the Franklin County Jail; as well as a wide-reaching series of recommendations of discipline against 52 deputies and supervisors for “neglect of duty.”
But in the end, only one deputy was disciplined.

And while one Lieutenant was forced to resign, no one was fired.

“One glimpse of somebody who cared about human life would have changed his situation dramatically,” Gay said, adding,   “He would still be here.”

Sheriff Zach Scott, nor his office would comment on the case or our story, citing the pending lawsuit.

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