COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The top lawyer for the Ohio prisons system will step down this month after more than three decades to take a new job with the Ohio attorney general's office, completing a career that coincided with the shaping of the modern correctional system in the state.
Greg Trout, 61, the nation's longest-serving chief legal counsel for a state corrections department, handled lawsuits ranging from the country's deadliest prison riot to freedom of religion claims by inmates who wanted to worship ancient Norse gods.
Trout's "undisputed level of experience and knowledge will leave a great void for our agency," said prisons director Gary Mohr.
Highlights of some of Trout's biggest cases:
— A Cleveland prison. After the Legislature voted in 1982 to spend $638 million to build 14 new prisons, the state explored the possibility of locating one of them on the grounds of a former General Motors plant in Cleveland. But the project became bogged down over time as neighbors protested, the city council refused to extend utilities to the site and previously undetected environmental hazards emerged, including the possible presence of PCBs, a byproduct of insulating device manufacturing linked to cancer. The prisons department sued Cleveland over the blockage but in 1988 gave up and built a prison in Grafton instead.
— Racial segregation. A 1991 class-action lawsuit alleged inmates at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville were being illegally segregated by race. In 1992, a judge approved a settlement by which the prison would stop assigning inmates to cells on the basis of race. A year later, tension over forced cell-assignment changes resulting from the settlement became a contributing factor in the Lucasville riot.
— Lucasville. On Easter Sunday, April 11, 1993, prisoners returning from outside recreation overpowered guards and seized a block of the prison. When the occupation ended 10 days later, nine inmates and a guard were dead. Racial tension, overcrowding and objections by Muslim inmates to a form of tuberculosis testing were among factors blamed for the uprising. Ohio settled a lawsuit by prisoners injured in the riot for $4.1 million and settled a lawsuit by guards taken hostage and by the family of slain guard Robert Vallandingham for more than $2 million. Five inmates were sentenced to death for their roles in the riot and remain on death row.