Two Former Oklahoma Prison Guards Get Deferred Sentences in Prisoner’s Death
by Matt Clarke
Two former guards at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP) received deferred sentences in connection with the death of an OSP prisoner who died due to smoke inhalation after setting fire to the mattress in his cell. Court documents stated the guards witnessed smoke coming from the cell and could not see whether the prisoner inside was alive, then lied about it to their supervisor and other prison staff.
Former guards Jay Nair, 46, and David Willis, 30, pleaded no contest on September 12, 2014 to second-degree manslaughter and misdemeanor willful neglect in the death of prisoner Julius J. Parker, 26.
According to court records, the judgment and sentencing for Nair and Willis were deferred for a period of two years. Both were also fined $450 and ordered to submit to supervision by the D.A.’s office for one year. A third former guard, David Anderson, 56, faces the same charges.
All three men were named in a wrongful death suit filed by Parker’s father in August 2013. The lawsuit, which also named the State of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) in addition to the three ex-guards, alleged that the defendants owed Parker a duty of care: “In fact, the defendant correctional officers, and the Department and State vicariously and as government entities housing prisoners, had specific employment duties to sustain and assure the safety of Julius Parker.”
Prosecutors alleged that Willis, Nair and Anderson effected Parker’s death “by culpable negligence in failing to perform their duties as correctional officers, including but not limited to checking on inmate Julius Parker’s welfare and failing to determine cause of smoke coming from his cell.”
Parker was housed in OSP’s maximum security H Unit. Affidavits filed in the case said surveillance video showed smoke coming from Parker’s cell at 1:29 p.m. on July 28, 2012. According to court records, “at [1:38 p.m.], Correctional Officers David Anderson and Jay Nair went to Parker’s cell to investigate the smoke. No other personnel went to the door of Parker’s cell until 2:24 p.m.,” when another guard “informed his chain of command of the condition of the cell, i.e. full of smoke with zero visibility, and that he could not get the occupant to respond.”
It was not until nearly an hour-and-a-half after the smoke was first observed – at 2:50 p.m. – that the prison’s extraction team arrived at Parker’s cell, removed him from the smoke-filled room and tried without success to revive him. [See: PLN, July 2013, p.26]. He was pronounced dead due to smoke inhalation at a regional hospital.
An investigation determined that Nair and Anderson both checked Parker’s cell and witnessed the smoke coming from inside, then reported the smoke to their supervisor. However, according to an affidavit, Nair falsely reported that Parker was conscious when they checked on him and later admitted he had lied – that nothing was visible in the cell due to the smoke and there was no indication Parker was alive. Further, Nair told the oncoming shift that Parker was alive and Anderson allegedly did not “contradict Nair or offer different observations.” Finally, the affidavit stated that Willis told investigators he never left the unit control booth to check on Parker or inform his chain of command about the incident “because he felt Jay Nair had appropriately informed the chain of command.”
In addition to the criminal charges lodged against the three ex-guards, three prison employees were fired following a DOC internal affairs investigation that determined the fire alarm system in the unit had been sabotaged and was not working.
Safety consultant Jerry Hunt was terminated for failing to carry out inspections of the alarm system, even though he filed paperwork claiming he had. Security manager Beatrice S. Glover was fired for filing false reports that stated “all fire alarms are in working order.” Investigators said because the system had been tampered with, the fire alarms could not have been working.
Finally, security manager Larry Jiles was discharged for leaving the prison at the end of his shift without taking any action about the smoldering fire in Parker’s cell. According to Jiles’ termination letter, Nair told him at 1:50 p.m. about the smoke but he chose to end his shift and leave. “You took no responsibility as to what was happening during your tour of duty and left without reporting any information to your supervisors,” the letter stated.
Jiles reportedly told investigators that he didn’t take the incident seriously “because inmates build fires to heat up coffee all the time. I didn’t think it was that severe.”
DOC spokesman Jerry Massie said the guards who noticed the smoke “did not realize the magnitude of the situation. When officers reported the situation to supervisors, the officers again did not convey the seriousness of the situation – which delayed the response to the offender’s cell.”
Nair’s attorney, Jeff Contreras, said DOC officials were looking for scapegoats in Parker’s death. “If DOC wants to play the blame game, perhaps DOC should take a harder look at the actions of its employees further up the chain of command, or at its own policies on how to handle the type of situation with which Mr. Nair was confronted,” he stated. “If there is any culpability at all, we believe that is where it lies.”
Sources: Tulsa World,www.corspecops.com, www.mcalesternews.com
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