After 5 days on the Floor of Jail Cell with Broken Neck, Elliott Williams died naked, unable to move - White Tulsa Jail Staff Denied Medical Care & Watched Him Die
The jail’s nurses, doctors, mental health professionals & detention officers did nothing to assist Dying Black Man. From [HERE] and [ReadFrontier] After more than five days on the concrete floor of his jail cell, Elliott Williams died naked, cold and alone, unable to move.
Hungry and thirsty, Williams screamed for help but couldn’t convince anyone at Tulsa’s David L. Moss Detention Center to help him.
Detention officers at the Tulsa Jail tossed three styrofoam trays of jail food at his feet, but Williams could not retrieve them. Though Williams begged for something to drink, he couldn’t pick up the styrofoam cups of water they placed near him.
One day turned to two, three and four days. On the fifth day, none of the jail’s staff bothered to enter Williams’ cell, Medical Cell #1.
The jail’s medical staff began to wonder if Williams might actually be paralyzed from a broken neck, as he claimed. But those in charge did nothing to find out whether his claims were true.
Instead, they watched him slowly dying on a video camera.
On the morning of the sixth day, the 37-year-old veteran who faced no formal charge died on the floor of his cell. The jail’s medical staff performed CPR on his lifeless body but it was too late to save Williams, pronounced dead Oct. 27, 2011.
A federal judge won't recuse himself from a wrongful death lawsuit that alleges an injured inmate died after languishing in the Tulsa Jail for nearly a week.
U.S. District Judge John Dowdell denied a motion Wednesday (2/15/17) filed by defense attorneys who asked Dowdell to remove himself from the case. They cited Dowdell's partnership with a private law firm involved in another lawsuit against former Tulsa County Sheriff Glanz, a defendant in the wrongful death suit.
The judge said the motion didn't meet standards to disqualify him from presiding over a trial in the case, the Tulsa World (http://bit.ly/2kCjN6Q ) reported.
"Moreover, the Court does not harbor any bias or ill will toward any party and has no financial or other personal interest in any party or the outcome of this matter," Dowdell wrote.
In July, the judge found that the federal civil rights lawsuit could go forward.
“A reasonable jury could find that Mr. Williams’ needs were obvious to any layperson,” states the ruling by U.S. District Judge John Dowdell.
“They could also find that the medical unit-wide attitude of inhumanity and indifference shown to him, which resulted in the delay and denial of medical care in the face of his symptoms that were obviously indicative of a serious medical condition or medical emergency, amounted to deliberate indifference.”
Dowdell’s order denied motions by the defendants — Sheriff Vic Regalado and former Sheriff Stanley Glanz [racist suspect in photo below] — to dismiss the suit. The judge also ruled that jail videos depicting Williams are admissible in the case, as are prior reviews or audits that found problems in the jail.
Dowdell’s 55 page ruling includes a blunt condemnation of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office jail staff for failing to help Williams. (An autopsy found he died from complications of a broken neck and noted he was seriously dehydrated.)
“A significant number of jail staff were aware that Mr. Williams did not walk, stand, sit up, eat, or drink on his own for days,” Dowdell’s ruling states.
Williams' attorney, Dan Smolen noted that no one has been held accountable for Williams’ death, despite an OSBI investigation and some interest by the U.S. Department of Justice. He hopes Wednesday’s ruling prompts a federal investigation of Williams’ death.
The Williams case is one of at least a dozen civil rights lawsuits against the county for deaths and serious injuries in the jail. Verdicts against the county in the Williams case, or any of the other suits, could cost county taxpayers millions.
Last year, a jury found against the county, ruling that the Sheriff’s Office deliberately indifferent, in the first of these cases to reach trial stage.
Smolen noted Wednesday that Tulsa County commissioners and Regalado are ultimately responsible for the outcome in Williams’ case and the other jail lawsuits. The commissioners have said little publicly about their role in overseeing the quality of medical care at the jail. [MORE]
Glanz and the county have denied liability in Williams’ case, saying if failures existed, they did not rise to the level of “deliberate indifference” that the plaintiffs are required to prove.
Though Glanz is no longer sheriff, Dowdell’s ruling leaves him as an individual defendant in the lawsuit. Regalado, and by extension the county, is the “official capacity” defendant.
The plaintiffs have already settled with the jail’s former medical provider, Correctional Healthcare Companies Inc., based in Nashville, for an undisclosed amount.
CHC was sold to Correct Care Solutions Inc., of Nashville, in 2014. Correct Care Solutions is one of several companies bidding on a new jail medical contract, worth about $5 million per year.
Mental breakdown, then arrest
Dowdell’s ruling recounts the history of Williams’ case and many points along the way his death might have been prevented.
On Oct. 21, 2011, Williams’ relatives took him to an Owasso hotel “because Elliott had not slept in days and was having psychological issues,” the ruling states. A breakup with his wife had left Williams despondent and he caused a disturbance in the hotel lobby.
Owasso police responded and the situation escalated. Williams, who relatives said had been diagnosed as bipolar in the military, said he wanted to die and did not comply with officers’ commands to sit down.
Rather than wait for a mobile mental health unit to arrive, Owasso police pepper sprayed Williams and took him to the city jail. Once there, Williams descended further into psychosis, hiding under a bench, taking off his clothes and barking like a dog.
Though inpatient beds are often scarce, Owasso police did not attempt to find a mental health facility that would take Williams. Instead, they decided they couldn’t handle Williams and took him to the Tulsa Jail, booking him in at 1:50 a.m. Oct. 22, 2011.
When Williams failed to cooperate at the jail, Owasso officers threw him to the floor, with one officer landing on top of him. After that takedown, Williams had difficulty walking, though wasn’t yet saying he was paralyzed.
Despite his threats of suicide, Williams was not placed on suicide watch. Instead, he was placed in a holding cell, where 45 minutes later, he allegedly rammed his head into the steel door of his cell and fell to the ground, not moving.
“He’s acting like he’s paralyzed, but we know he’s not,” a mental health worker told Williams’s dad, court papers allege. [MORE]
He told detention officers and jail medical staff he had broken his neck. However, for more than 10 hours, Williams was left in the holding cell without attention.
During that time, detention supervisors knew about Williams’ claims his neck was broken, including “Watch Commander Captain Wood, booking supervisors Corporal (Arthur) Jackson and Sergeant (Carla) Housley, and the Housing Supervisor, Sergeant (Jack) Reusser,” Dowdell’s order states.
Early the next morning, when Williams was still unable to move, the jail staff declared a “medical emergency.” However, the “head nurse” for the jail “cussed at and berated Williams, telling him that he should be ‘ashamed’ of himself, to get his ‘nasty ass’ in the shower, and to ‘quit fucking faking.’”
Capt. Tommy Fike and Sgt. Doug Hinshaw placed Williams on a gurney and “dumped Mr. Williams off the gurney into the shower,” Dowdell’s ruling states, “where Wiliams hit his head with a ‘smack.’”
Williams was left in the shower for up to three hours, unable to move.
“Throughout the first day at the jail, Mr. Williams continued to tell his captors that he was paralyzed and unable to move or walk,” Dowdell’s ruling notes.
A detention officer had to “pour water into his mouth” and feed him a bologna sandwich by holding his head up. However an LPN, Raymond Stiles, appeared to doubt Williams’ claims of paralysis.
“Wants to be waited on,” Stiles’ wrote in a “progress note.”
Cell became ‘burial crypt’
For the next three days — Oct. 23 through 25 — some jail medical staff and detention officers expressed concerns about Williams’ condition but did not provide medical treatment or call 911.
John Bell, a member of the jail’s mental health staff, visited briefly with Williams on the evening of Oct. 24. During the visit, Williams told Bell he was paralyzed and said, “I want water.”
“Williams still received no medical care. Instead, Bell recorded in notes that he provided Williams ‘education’ regarding ‘coping skills,’” the judge’s order states.
Dr. Stephen Harnish, a psychiatrist employed by the jail’s medical provider, failed to visit Williams until Oct. 25, three days after Williams claimed he had a broken neck. Though jail staff thought Williams was pretending to be paralyzed, Harnish ordered no neurological exam or “any type of medical examination” during the 12 minute visit to rule out paralysis, the order says.
In a footnote, Dowdell notes that even if Williams was faking paralysis, “that would not have eliminated the obligation to provide him adequate nutrition and hydration” as well as medical care.
“Instead of providing or ordering medical care, Harnish ordered jail staff to place Mr. Williams in Medical Cell number 1, which would be his burial crypt. … The remainder of Williams’ life was recorded by a video camera.”
Detention officers placed Williams, who was naked, on a blanket and dragged him into the cell.
That day, jail staff tossed two trays of food into Williams’ cell, where they remained for two days because he was unable to reach them or feed himself. He was also unable to reach a cup of water placed nearby.
On day five, Oct. 26, no jail staff entered Williams’ cell. Though LPN Kimberly Hughes expressed concern, Detention Officers Steven Smith and Crystal Rich refused to open Williams’ cell door, “claiming they could not do so for safety reasons.”
The order notes Williams had not been violent or aggressive toward officers there appeared to be no basis for that warning.
Another mental health team member, Patricia Benoit, noted that Williams was “still refusing to move” on the morning of Oct. 26. An LPN, Carmen Luca, also noted that Williams had said he couldn’t move.
By that evening, LPN Devorsha Stewart reported that Williams was “partially covered by a blanket, shaking” and unresponsive.
Still, the jail’s nurses, doctors, mental health professionals and detention officers did nothing to assist Williams.
Dowdell’s order states: “Although Williams had repeatedly announced, for over four days, to numerous jail staff, that he was paralyzed, could not move, could not get up, and was thirsty, and while he had not eaten, had water, or moved from the position to which he was dragged more than 36 hours before, Stewart recorded that she ‘encouraged (Williams) to inform staff of needs or concerns.’”
On the last day of Williams’ life, Oct. 27, jail staff threw a third tray of food into his cell, this time pushing it through a hole in the door.
John Bell, identified as a mental health team member, noted Williams was laying on the floor with spit on his cheek, mumbling. A visiting medical resident, Dr. Khadga Limbu, saw Williams and expressed concern about his condition, conducting a reflex test on his feet with little response. (The reflex test was the only documented medical attention Williams received before his death.)
Limbu told the jail’s medical director, Dr. Phillip Washburn, that Williams needed medical attention. Washburn would later say he didn’t check on Williams and didn’t recall being asked to do so.
“Washburn testified that, ‘If it happened, it was my bad. Because if a resident Doctor would have said that he needed to be sent out (to the hospital) I would have sent him right out.’”
Under the jail’s $5 million annual contract, Washburn was responsible for treating inmates with illnesses and injuries. Under state law, the Tulsa County sheriff (Glanz at the time) is responsible for overseeing all jail operations, including the medical contract.
Just after 11 a.m. on Oct. 27, 2011, Williams was found unresponsive, “more than five days after being detained for a misdemeanor for which he was never even arraigned and reporting a broken neck and paralysis,” Dowdell’s order states.
“After unhurried attempts at CPR, it was clear that Williams, who was lifeless and had blood coming from his mouth, was dead.”
An autopsy found that Williams died of complications from a broken neck and that he was also dehydrated.
Khan, an expert for the plaintiffs in the case, “has opined that the jail’s failure to stabilize William’s cervical spine resulted in a hematoma traveling up the spine, shutting down the spinal cord, which caused Williams’ respiratory muscles to stop working, thereby causing his death.”
The death would have been avoidable if Williams received adequate medical treatment, Khan states.
Asked in a deposition about Williams’ death, Washburn said he believed Williams received “appropriate care,” adding: “people just die sometimes.”
Washburn is currently a licensed physician in good standing, according to the state Medical Board, which states he works at a Sapulpa family medical clinic. Harnish’s practice is listed as the David L. Moss Detention Center his employer is listed as the jail’s current medical contractor, Armor, records show.
Neither Washburn nor Harnish have disciplinary actions on their record. It’s unclear whether the state Medical Board ever considered complaints against either doctor as a result of Williams’ case.
During a previous interview with Regalado, The Frontier asked if he had read the lawsuits against the sheriff’s office alleging civil rights violations for deaths and injuries in the jail. Regalado replied that he had not.
The Frontier has filed an Open Records Act lawsuit against Regalado after he refused to release jail video of an inmate, David Fulps, whose neck was broken in the jail
Staff made ‘dummy charts’
Dowdell’s order notes that in order to prevail, the plaintiffs must prove that the Sheriff’s Office was deliberately indifferent to the risk that Williams would receive inadequate medical care.
His order finds that Glanz had been placed on notice by three prior audits of the jail’s medical care: audits by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care in 2007 and 2010 and an audit in 2011 by the U.S. Immigrations, Customs and Enforcement agency.
All three audits found serious lapses in medical care of inmates at the jail, yet Glanz refused to replace the medical provider, Correctional Healthcare Companies Inc., and little changed in the way of policy and procedure, the order states.
Instead, Glanz and then-Undersheriff Tim Albin directed nurses and other jail personnel to hide inmate medical files that were considered problematic from the auditors. An employee of the jail’s medical provider, Pam Hoisington, also directed staff to create “dummy charts” for the auditors, the order states.
Regardless of the subterfuge, all three audits identified widespread failures by the jail to provide adequate medical care to inmates. Though Glanz received the audit reports, he took no action to address the findings.
“Mr. Glanz testified … that, with respect to such reports, he would ‘read the first two or three pages and then … file them.’”