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Video Shows Tulsa Jail Prisoner Subjected to “Horrific” Treatment Prior to Death

Video Shows Tulsa Jail Prisoner Subjected to “Horrific” Treatment Prior to Death

An Oklahoma federal district court denied a request to modify a protective order to allow the release of video footage of the treatment of a prisoner prior to his death at the Tulsa County Jail (TCJ). The court further held the plaintiff’s description of the video in the motion did not violate the protective order because the description was made in furtherance of the litigation.

The civil rights action at issue was filed by the estate of Elliott Earl Williams, 37, who died in a cell at TCJ on October 27, 2011. The suit alleged that Williams was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment following his arrest five days earlier.

“I have never seen a more horrific, egregious violation of a human being’s civil rights in the United States as I have in what is displayed in the Elliott Williams video,” stated attorney Daniel Smolen.

Williams exhibited signs of mental illness at booking, according to the motion that sought to release surveillance video of the last 51 hours of his life. He reportedly crawled on his hands and knees, and barked and screamed. He tried to hurt himself and ran headfirst into the booking cell door. Guards and staff employed by TCJ’s private medical contractor, Correctional Healthcare Management, assumed that Williams was faking paralysis. He had soiled himself and was left to lie on the floor for 10 hours.

He was then placed on a gurney, taken to TCJ’s medical unit and dumped into a shower, where he stayed for two hours. Afterwards he was moved to a medical cell and placed on a bunk with only a blanket.

While in that cell, Williams remained naked and immobile for the next three days. He last ate on October 23, and his last drink of water, “other than a few drops he managed to lick off his fingers,” was on October 24. The next morning he was dragged on his blanket to a video-monitored cell.

“On one occasion, he attempted to open one of the food containers that had been thrown into his cell the previous day, but his efforts to do so failed,” the motion stated. “In the process of trying to open the food container, he spilled the cup of water. The empty cup was still in the cell when Mr. Williams died.”

A doctor and nurse visited the cell just after 8 a.m. on October 27. Vomit and saliva had pooled on Williams’ face and he had little, if any, reflex in his feet. Yet he was provided no medical care. Three hours later, guards found Williams without a pulse and not breathing.

“As a final demonstration of the complete lack of human respect shown Mr. Williams throughout his jail stay, two of the nurses took a corner of Mr. Williams’ blanket, lifting and pulling on it until Mr. Williams’ dead body was sent sprawling across the floor.” An autopsy determined his death was caused by spinal injuries “due to blunt force trauma” and “a pattern of dehydration.”

TCJ Major Shannon Clark called Williams’ death an “unfortunate situation.”

The district court found that a protective order entered in the lawsuit should not be modified to release the video, as such relief was being sought for entities that were not parties to the litigation. The proper procedure was for the non-parties to intervene. The court also held that the plaintiff representing Williams’ estate did not violate the protective order because the sheriff had stipulated the video and related records were not confidential. Additionally, the description of the video included in the motion was “for purposes of this litigation”; thus, the sheriff’s request to quash the motion was denied.

Despite the district court’s ruling, the video of Williams’ abysmal treatment at TCJ was publicly released in July 2013 and has been widely viewed online.

Correctional Healthcare Management agreed to settle the case in March 2014 under undisclosed terms; the lawsuit remains pending against the remaining defendants, including Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz. See: Burke v. Glanz, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Okla.), Case No. 4:11-cv-00720-JED-PJC.


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Related legal case

Burke v. Glanz