BUFFALO, N.Y. — A "compliance officer" will inspect the Erie County Holding Center on Monday and Tuesday to see if jail officials have done what they said they would do to prevent suicides.
The U.S. Justice Department's lawyers may not tag along, U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny ruled Wednesday.
Justice Department lawyers had wanted to walk with Robert L. Trestman, just as Erie County's lawyers can do, when he examines the county's progress in installing an array of new suicide-prevention measures.
But Skretny said the agreement that county leaders signed with the Justice Department months ago, to settle one aspect of the federal government lawsuit seeking better jail conditions, does not let the Justice Department tour the jail with Trestman.
The settlement requires that federal lawyers with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division be given "reasonable access" to the jail to confirm Trestman's findings, but after he issues his report, Skretny said.
Justice Department lawyer Charles W. Hart Jr. had said in court papers that Trestman did not object to the federal government lawyers accompanying him.
However, Skretny said the wishes of the joint compliance officer, often called "the JCO," don't change things.
"I know that the JCO doesn't object, according to the papers," Skretny told Hart on Wednesday. "But that to me isn't an override to the settlement."
Erie County lawyers and the Justice Department selected Trestman, who at one time was responsible for mental health services in Connecticut's jails and prisons, to independently assess the Erie County Jail Management Division's progress in better preventing suicides.
The Holding Center, overseen primarily by Sheriff Timothy B. Howard and County Executive Chris Collins, has a suicide rate some five times the national average for county jails, based on the average daily population, a Justice Department consultant has said.
After objecting to the Justice Department's involvement, Collins agreed to refashion jail fixtures so they are less able to support a noose, improve suicide screening and better focus on inmates coming off dangerous, addictive drugs.
The hearing before Skretny on Wednesday was the first in the post-Cheryl A. Green era. Green, the former Erie County attorney, was determined to cut the Justice Department's case off at the knees whenever she could. However, she had only mixed success before Skretny.
A team of lower-ranking county lawyers on Wednesday had the matter won even before they opened their mouths. Skretny began the hearing by saying that, after reading the legal briefs, he believed the settlement did not give the Justice Department the access it wanted.