Jail Under Scrutiny After Inmate Death
Sheriff Stanley Glanz, healthcare facilitators, and other jail workers are facing a lawsuit, alleging a lack of mental and physical care for an inmate contributed to his death.
Elliott Earl Williams died at age 37 at the Tulsa County Jail after five days in October of 2011.
A woman responsible for his estate filed the lawsuit. It alleges that Owasso Police arrested Williams following a disturbance call. The lawsuit references the police report, saying it was "readily apparent" Williams was having a "mental breakdown". He was arrested and taken to Owasso Police Headquarters for booking on a misdemeanor obstruction charge.
During that time, the lawsuit says he crawled on his hands on knees barking and screaming. It said he slammed his head against the wall many times.
Police reportedly moved Williams to the Tulsa County Jail shortly thereafter. The lawsuit states that during booking there, Williams said he could not walk and begged staff to "cut it out of my belly."
The lawsuit states that he was not initially separated from other inmates. Following an examination from a psychiatrist later on, he was moved to what is called a "suicide cell".
Video surveillance of the cell shows Williams lying on his back, dipping his fingers in a water cup, and bringing them to his lips. He appears otherwise immobile.
The lawsuit and video show that at some point on October 27, 2011, staff attempted to resuscitate Williams but did not succeed. He died five days after entering the Tulsa County Jail.
The medical examiner's office reports it was likely a spinal injury from blunt force trauma that caused his death.
The lawyer of the woman who filed the suit told Channel 8 "no comment."
Channel 8 spoke with representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. One person said she has received at least 12 calls in the last six months relating to concerns from incarcerated people's loved ones. They are often concerned about inmates' access to medications.
NAMI Board Member Mary Ellen Jones said of this case, "I just wonder, how did he [Williams] end up in jail instead of treatment?" She said people with mental illness are not criminals. Rather, she said crimes sometimes occur as a result of their illnesses.
The Sheriff's Office said on any given day, there are about 500 of 1,700 inmates that take medications for mental issues.
Major Shannon Clark said patients go through an extensive medical review before they are booked into housing. However, staff is not always aware of any mental problems upon initial entry. He said over 14 days, inmates go through a physical examination, which includes mental evaluation.
"Obviously, the death was a very unfortunate situation at the jail. On the advice of our counsel, because it is active litigation, we can't comment on it, but we are actively looking forward to defending this in court," Clark said.