ELYRIA — The inmate who died at the Lorain County Jail last month was killed by a fentanyl overdose, according to the results of toxicology tests.
Joseph Boden, 37, also had mild heart disease, but it was the powerful painkiller that killed him, Chief Deputy Coroner Frank Miller said.
“He got ahold of fentanyl and OD’d in jail,” Miller said.
Exactly how Boden, who was serving a 90-day jail sentence for theft and contempt of court, obtained drugs inside the jail is still under investigation, jail Administrator Andy Laubenthal said.
A search of the pod where Boden was being held at the time of his death by both drug dogs and guards didn’t turn up illegal narcotics, Laubenthal said.
Guards at the jail were alerted by other inmates that Boden needed help about 11:25 p.m. March 20, and medical personnel were brought in. Boden was taken to University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
“(Jail staff) made every effort they could to save that person’s life,” Laubenthal said. “Unfortunately, that person died.”
Boden’s mother, Vicki Swope, said there are unanswered questions about her son’s death, including whether he was given the drug Narcan, which can save those overdosing on opioids and how the fentanyl got inside the jail.
“Obviously, he died of an overdose of something that should not have been inside that jail cell,” Swope said.
Miller said there was no indication in the toxicology report that Boden had received Narcan. Miller and Sheriff’s Sgt. Randal Koubeck said witnesses were still being interviewed about whether Narcan was administered to Boden after he was found unresponsive.
Swope said her son had been in the jail for months and only had a little more than a week left to serve on his sentence, so he probably wasn’t the one who brought the drugs he overdosed on into the jail.
Laubenthal said this is the first fatal drug overdose he can recall inside the jail, but drugs do manage to slip past the security in place to prevent contraband from making it inside.
Although how the fentanyl that Boden took made it past security measures and who did so remains unclear, Laubenthal said there are really only two ways to get contraband into the jail. Either an employee brings it in or an inmate smuggles it in during booking.
Laubenthal said the most-common way for drugs and other illicit items to be snuck into jails and prisons is for an inmate to hide it inside his or her body cavities.
Such practices were once rare among inmates, and although Laubenthal said inmates remain reluctant to admit to hiding items in their rectums, stomachs or vaginas, that has changed among prisoners.
“It’s no longer taboo for people to put things in body cavities,” he said.
Between 2011 and March 29, the jail has 18 reports of items being brought into the facility via body cavity, and 11 of those incidents involved drugs. Laubenthal said guards have also been able to trace razor blades, syringes, a lighter and a handcuff key that were brought in inside someone.
During that same time, he said there were 118 other instance when inmates were caught with contraband, but it was unclear how those items made it inside. There were also additional instances where contraband was found but couldn’t be linked to a specific inmate.
The problem with searching someone is that there’s only so much guards can do when they physically inspect incoming prisoners and run them through a metal detector, Laubenthal said. Large items, such as guns, that are hidden in body cavities will set off a metal detector, but smaller and nonmetallic items can escape detection.
When inmates come in they are patted down before undergoing a medical checkup and then being showered and issued jail clothing. Thousands of people are booked through the jail each year, but not all of them actually end up incarcerated at the facility. The jail had an average daily population of 411 inmates last year.
Laubenthal said those trying to smuggle contraband past his corrections officers aren’t always the career criminals that guards used to worry about. He said now it could be someone serving three days on a DUI offense who brings something with them.
“It tells me this is being more of a widespread problem than it was in the past,” he said. “There used to be a stigma with putting something there and bringing it in.”
To combat the problem, Laubenthal is looking into getting a full body scanner, similar to what the U.S. Transportation Security Administration uses to get a more intimate look at travelers passing through airport security checkpoints.
“They’re not cheap, obviously, and it’s not an easy sell,” he said.
But they are becoming more common in jails. Medina County spent $188,000 to install a full-body scanner at its jail earlier this year.
“I see no other way of protecting the inmate population and finding contraband than getting a scan of what may or may not be in someone’s body cavity,” Laubenthal said.
Attorney Brett Murner, who is representing Boden’s family, said they are monitoring the investigation and there could be a lawsuit over the death of the father of three.
Murner said it’s too soon to say exactly how the fentanyl Boden overdosed on got into the jail.
“Is it body cavity? Who knows,” he said. “Stuff gets into jails and prisons all the time.”
Swope said she believes whoever is responsible for giving her son the fentanyl should face charges, but that jail officials also bear some responsibility.
“He was a great person with a great heart and a great father,” she said.
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