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Federal Judge Clears Way for Civil Rights Suit in Oklahoma Jail Death

Medical Cell #1 became a “burial crypt” inside the David L. Moss Detention Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma when Elliot Williams, a mentally-ill 37-year-old veteran, lay paralyzed with a broken neck on the concrete floor, naked, cold and hungry, as he pleaded for medical attention for five days in October 2011. No jail employees came to his aid; instead, guards mocked him and nurses accused him of faking. Surveillance cameras watched silently as Williams’ condition worsened until, on the sixth morning, he died of complications from his neck injury.

Nearly five years later, on July 20, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge John Dowdell issued a key ruling that allowed a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Williams’ family to proceed. “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,” the ruling stated. “A reasonable jury could find that Mr. Williams’ needs were obvious to any layperson. 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.”

According to The Frontier, the Williams family’s lawsuit is only one of dozens against the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office. [See: PLN, Jan. 2016, p.40]. One case that recently went to trial resulted in a jury verdict against the county for $25,000 plus attorney fees that “could amount to high six-figures,” stated attorney Dan Smolen, who represented the plaintiff – a former prisoner who was sexually abused by a jail guard. Comparable outcomes in other cases could result in a multi-million dollar cost to taxpayers. See: Burke v. Glanz, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Okla.), Case No. 4:11-cv-00720-JHP-TLW.

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Related legal case

Burke v. Glanz