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$12.5 Million Settlement for Oklahoma Prisoner’s In-Custody Death Riled Sheriff’s Race

Sheriff Jody Helm, Deputy Darrell Momsen and their fellow candidate Cory Rink all promised more training and transparency. Helm was appointed after the April 2018 death of acting Sheriff Rick Fagan, who had been tapped for the job when former Sheriff Jerry Niles went on administrative leave during the investigation into Huff’s death.

Niles and his daughter-in-law, Jennifer, the jail’s former administrator, together with Turn Key Health Clinic employee Lela June Goatley, allegedly left Huff in a restraint chair for two-and-a-half days without access to medication or medical treatment. The 58-year-old, who had been arrested on a public intoxication charge, died on June 8, 2016, of chronic alcoholism. Jennifer Niles, along with jailers Shawn Caleb Galusha and John Robert Markus, later pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter charges and served 55 hours in jail.

Huff’s arrest on June 4, 2016, was not his first visit to Garfield County Detention Center (GCDC), so guards and staff were familiar with him and his medical needs. They had records that showed Huff suffered from heart disease, insomnia, hypertension, and depression. But Huff did not receive an initial medical screening at intake. He was booked into GCDC without any of his prescriptions. He also suffered from alcoholism and was at high risk for withdrawal.

Huff began experiencing delusions and hallucinations and was placed in a restraint chair on June 6, where he remained until he died 55 hours later. The suit alleged that proper protocol was not followed in the decision to place Huff in the chair. He was not filmed nor under observation for the entire time in the chair. He was not properly hydrated and did not receive any bathroom breaks and was purposefully taunted with his meals. The suit states that at one point, “Defendant Goatley was told Mr. Huff was in bad physical shape, looked through a window of the door at Mr. Huff and stated she was not going to do anything and was not going to call a physician for any more help.”

The suit held county Sheriff Jerry Niles, county Jail Administrator Jennifer Niles, and the Board of County Commissioners liable for creating a culture of abuse that allowed the restraint chair to be used against Huff as punishment rather than management — and left Huff restrained for over 55 consecutive hours, violating all manner of medical and safety regulations, resulting in his death.

The filing of the complaint in June 2017 sparked the investigation that led to the criminal charges. Sheriff Niles took leave, retiring in June 2019 after charges were filed against his wife and the two guards – but not the sheriff — by specially appointed District Attorney Chris Boring.

The Board of Commissioners of Garfield County, whose population is about 60,000, voted to settle the suit for $12.5 million paid over three years to Huff’s family. Their attorneys, Wyant Law Firm, Long Claypole & Blakley Law and Durbin, Larimore & Bialick, released the following statement concerning the settlement:

“The Federal Civil Rights lawsuit on behalf of our client, Anthony Huff, has been resolved in an amicable fashion which won’t require further litigation. As our client’s family will never be made whole by any amount of money for the loss of a loved one, they do appreciate the Board of County Commissioners resolving this matter in a way that protects Garfield County from the potential of a much larger verdict and acknowledges the severity of this horrific death while also providing some level of justice and closure for the family.”

In a runoff election August 25, 2020, voters chose Rink to take over as county sheriff. The 33-year-old previously served as chief of police in Covington, Oklahoma. See: Graham v. Garfield, Cty. Det. Ctr., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143514. 


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Related legal case

Graham v. Garfield, Cty. Det. Ctr.