Jail guards in charge of former gymnastics coach falsified records in death investigation

Marvin Sharp died of an apparent suicide in his jail cell in 2015.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - 13 Investigates has discovered jail guards falsified documents in a high profile suicide case.

It's a secret the Marion County Sheriff's Office kept under wrap for years.

Just months ago, 13 Investigates revealed suspicions surrounding the death of gymnastics coach Marvin Sharp. Now, the appearance of an attempted cover up and what it means for safety and security at the jail.

Surveillance video inside the Marion County Jail reveals the moment a deputy discovered the lifeless body of former Olympic gymnastics coach Marvin Sharp. Sharp was facing federal child pornography and molestation charges.

Jail staff can't say how long Sharp had been dead, or even who last saw him alive.

Guards Failed to Keep Accurate Jail Logs

Jail logs are supposed to provide those answers but 13 Investigates has learned deputies on duty that night did not conduct the mandatory "clock rounds" or cell checks. And internal documents obtained by 13 Investigates reveal the supervisory staff falsified records to say they did.

City-County Councilman John Wessler sits on the Public Safety Committee. He's a retired 25-year jail deputy.

"Lying on a report, that's pretty bad," said Wessler.

For almost three years, the falsified records were kept secret.

In 2015, the Sheriff's Office announced it had "reorganized" after a wrongful release and a series of jail deaths.

16 Guards and Supervisors Disciplined After Sharp Death

Sixteen deputies were disciplined for "performance of duty" violations in the Sharp death. But no one would say exactly what they did wrong.

"It's under pending litigation and we're not going to talk about the Sharp case," said Lt. Col James Martin back in February. Martin took over as Jail Commander after Sharp's death. The previous Commander Royce Cole was demoted. Jail supervisors and guards received suspensions of up to two days.

13 Investigates questioned Martin about public confidence in the jail's ability to keep inmates safe to face their accusers.

Concerns Over Jail Safety and Security

"As part of our justice system, people in our community have got to have confidence that those who come into your system are going to be able to make it through (to) the rest of the justice system and there's some questions about that," said 13 Investigates Reporter Sandra Chapman.

After a long pause, Lt. Col Martin responded.

"I have no comment," he said.

"Did this not happen in your jail?" Chapman asked.

"That is overexaggerating some comments," Martin fired back.

"What's overexaggerated? Tell me what's overexaggerated; that families want to see justice?" countered Chapman. Still, Martin refused to address the concern over public confidence.

Days after that interview, the sheriff's office confirmed there was no lawsuit.

Sheriff's Office Releases New Disciplinary Records Revealing Falsified Logs

For months, 13 Investigates pushed for the records. The sheriff's office finally released new disciplinary records for all 16 deputies that read, in part:

"The investigation determined that clock rounds to verify the health, welfare and security of inmates had not been properly performed. In addition...supervisory staff had submitted inaccurate reports confirming that clock rounds were properly completed," read the internal memo from Chief Deputy Eva Talley Sanders.

"When I worked there, we made our rounds. We had a log book. You wrote in that log book when everything happened," Wessler explained. "Date and time, date and time, because those things count in the court of law. Not your imagination, not your memory."

Wessler says the safety issue comes down to manpower decisions. At the time of Sharp's death, the jail was short 60 deputies.

Lt. Col. Martin said he was short 70 deputies earlier this year. But Wessler wants to see the proof.

City County Council Orders Audit of Sheriff's Office

"I want to know where all these people are and that's why there's an audit being done," Wessler told 13 Investigates.

In June, the council's administration committee approved $220,000 to conduct an audit of the finances, operations and staffing at the sheriff's office.

"Obviously, there's something lacking here," said Wessler, "Its main responsibility is taking care of the prisoners."

Sharp's death was investigated as a possible murder, but IMPD listed the case as "unfounded."

Johnny Galarza (left) was sentenced to 30 years for nearly strangling Michael Lentz (right) to death last year.
Johnny Galarza (left) was sentenced to 30 years for nearly strangling Michael Lentz (right) to death last year.

The Marion County Coroner's Office determined Sharp died from asphyxia by suffocation, but did not determine Sharp's actual time of death.

Inmate Gets 30 Years for Strangulation Case in Lockup

Questions about jail security were also raised earlier this year when an inmate nearly strangled a 72-year-old man to death inside the city lockup last November.

Johnny Galarza was sentenced to 30 years in prison Tuesday as part of a plea deal. The 31-year old pleaded guilty to attempted murder and robbery charges for the attack on Michael Lentz.

A witness told 13 Investigates Galarza strangled Lentz twice with a shoestring while another suspect held Lentz down. The witness said jail guards failed to respond to calls for help. The attack was caught on surveillance and raised more concerns over staffing and security even within the intake area at the Marion County lockup.