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Oklahoma Guard Acquitted in Prisoner’s Death

An Oklahoma federal jury acquitted a jail guard of violating a prisoner’s civil rights. The charges came from an incident at the Oklahoma County Jail, which resulted in the prisoner’s death.

Christopher Beckman, 34, died in a hospital on May 28, 2007. That was two days after he had a long struggle with guards in his second floor cell, just outside his cell, and inside the jail’s 13th floor medical clinic.

Several guards were charged as a result of the incident. At issue at the federal trial were the actions of guard Gavin Douglas Littlejohn, 26, inside the clinic. Prosecutors argued that Littlejohn used excessive force against the handcuffed Beckman because he acted up.

Guards William Ira Hathorn and Sgt. Robert Roy testified Littlejohn struck Beckman while they restrained him on an examination table. The deputy chief medical examiner concluded Beckman died of blunt force head trauma.

The testimony of Hathorn and Roy, however, had little creditability. For more than a year, they lied to investigators about the incident. “They needed a fall guy,” said Littlejohn’s attorney, Michael S. Johnson.

Several defense witnesses supported that position. They testified Roy and other guards hurt Beckman before Littlejohn became involved. Some witnesses described seeing Roy and another guard ram Beckman’s head into a steel jail door.

Littlejohn himself was not forthcoming with investigators about his actions. Early in the investigation, he said he never struck Beckman, Roy, who was cooperating with the FBI, uncovered that lie by secretly recording a conversation.

In a December 15, 2008 conversation, Littlejohn said, “I didn’t even hit that dude hard. I just, first, smacked him…and that didn’t work. And so, then, I hit him with the side of my hand, which is the meaty part of your hand. There’s no brick…And then that didn’t work and so I hit him in the back of the head, OK, with my fist…I’m telling you right now…I know I didn’t kill that guy.”

After Littlejohn and guard Justin Mark Isch were indicted by a federal grand jury in February, 2009, they were fired by jail officials. Isch was determined to not have blame for Beckman’s death, so prosecutors allowed him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge for smashing Beckman into a steel door.

Hathorn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents. He and Isch await sentencing. Roy still works for the Oklahoma County Sheriff. Beckman’s family filed a civil suit over his death.


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