A juvenile prison guard was wrestling with a teen inmate before the guard collapsed and later died, the state said Tuesday in a report that blamed the guard for "inappropriate contact" with the youth.
Juvenile inmates interviewed for the report also said horseplay between guards and youth was commonplace. One youth told investigators that 75 percent "of the Correctional Officers he has been exposed to have horse played with him," according to the report reviewed by The Associated Press.
"During the course of this investigation it was determined that JCO Hesson was involved in inappropriate contact or 'horse play' with Youth Hubert Morgan," the report said in reference to juvenile correctional officer William Hesson and the juvenile inmate.
Still, the prosecutor's office defended its decision to charge Morgan with a crime.
"The evidence supported that the intent was to physically harm this corrections officer," spokesman Ryan Miday said Tuesday.
The 45-page report concluded that Hesson and Morgan went to the laundry room at Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correctional Facility on April 29 to wrestle. Hesson had been involved in horseplay with Morgan and another youth throughout his shift, the report said. Prison rules prohibit horseplay between staff and inmates.
The guard had Morgan in a headlock when Morgan kneed him in the chest, according to the report, which cited youth witnesses and a letter Morgan wrote explaining what happened. Morgan then left the room, apparently not realizing Hesson was hurt, wearing Hesson's ball cap and carrying the guard's bottle of soda.
"Hey, I am JCO Morgan," Morgan joked as he left the room, according to the report.
Hesson, 39, died of a cardiac rhythm disturbance caused by a blow to the abdomen. The Cuyahoga County coroner ruled his death a homicide.
Monday, Morgan, 18, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in a deal that allows him to avoid trial and be sentenced to anywhere from probation to 10 years in prison at a hearing Feb. 2. In exchange, the original charges of murder and felonious assault were dropped.
Hesson's daughter disputed the state's findings and said wrestling with an inmate was out of character for her father.
"My dad would not wrestle on the job," Brandi Hesson, 19, told the AP on Tuesday. "He wouldn't do something like that. He takes his job very, very, very seriously."
A union representing juvenile prison guards also disputed the finding, saying Morgan could just as easily have lured Hesson into the laundry room to attack him.
After Hesson's death, Morgan wrote an apology letter to the guard's family and said Hesson was like a father to him. The letter, found in Morgan's cell, was released Tuesday and also was to be given to the family.
Morgan had a troubled history in state detention that included involvement in fights and two cases of consensual sex with another inmate between the time he entered the youth prison system Aug. 27, 2008, until Hesson's death April 29, according to a separate report on the youth prison system released in September.
Ohio's juvenile prison system has been plagued with violence for years, including numerous cases of staff assaulting youth, youth assaulting staff and fights between the teen inmates.