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Oklahoma County Settles Jail Death Lawsuit for $3.2 Million

by Dale Chappell

The family of a man who was neglected to the point that he died in jail in Carter County, Oklahoma has settled a lawsuit against the county for $3.2 million, plus interest, after new and damaging evidence was uncovered.

Michael Manos was no stranger to staff at the Carter County jail. Just eight months before his last booking into the facility, he was taken to the hospital in what his family’s lawsuit said was a “fragile psychological state,” when jail staff wouldn’t give him his medication. Manos had an extensive history of bipolar disorder, which was managed with medications, the complaint said. He also was a diabetic.

Manos was booked into the jail in October 2015, then found unresponsive laying on the floor of his cell 16 days later. Staff should have known there was a problem, as Manos had not eaten for a week before they found him covered in his own feces, he was not receiving any of his medications and staff refused to let his mother deliver his medicine to the jail.

When Manos was found laying on the floor on November 7, 2015 during medication rounds, Deputy Maxson was described in the lawsuit as “nudging” him with his foot but receiving no response.

Instead of calling for help, Maxson decided to finish his rounds; he returned later to find Manos was not breathing and had no pulse. He then went to get help, which is when Deputy Whitener called for an ambulance.

EMS found Manos covered in feces with his mouth so packed that they couldn’t put a breathing tube into his lungs. More importantly, their report said jail staff had not done anything to help Manos – no CPR or any other attempt at saving his life – for at least 20 minutes before the ambulance arrived.

Manos, 40, was pronounced dead at the hospital just minutes after EMS brought him in. The medical examiner’s report said his death was due to a pulmonary embolism, attributed to “extended immobility” for weeks. The report further said there was no evidence he was taking his medication.

Jeanne Bennett, Manos’ mother, filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the lack of medical care at the jail violated his constitutional rights; specifically, her attorneys said jail staff were deliberately indifferent to Manos’ medical needs. The complaint also alleged the jail lacked any policy or training of staff about proper medical protocols. Manos’ death was directly linked to the complete lack of medical care and basic attention to his needs over the weeks that he was incarcerated, the suit argued.

The county initially fought Manos’ mother in court, with an eight-member jury sitting through two days of trial. But when the judge ordered production of records that the county had not turned over (which it was required to do), they showed that staff had not given Manos his insulin. That finding prompted the county to immediately settle the case.

The county’s attorney, Ambre Gooch, said in an email to a local newspaper that the county elected to settle “to avoid a disastrous result from a jury.” She also blamed the former sheriff for “inadequacies in the operation of the Carter County Jail.”

A magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma approved the settlement, which included $3.2 million in damages to Manos’ family plus interest, on October 5, 2019. Under Oklahoma law, the county will pay the settlement in annual installments rather than a lump sum. As part of the agreement the county denied all liability in Manos’ death.

The lawsuit also prompted several remedial measures at the jail under the new sheriff, Gooch said in her email. See: Bennett v. Carter County Sheriff, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Okla.), Case No. 6:17-cv-00289-SPS. 


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Related legal case

Bennett v. Carter County Sheriff