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Oklahoma County Pays $1.1 Million After Jail Guards Fatally Beat Detainee

by Jacob Barrett

On September 1, 2022, the federal courtfor the Western District of Oklahoma granted dismissal to plaintiffs in a suit against Oklahoma County, after they agreed to a $1.1 million settlement in the death of a detainee killed by guards at the county jail in April 2017. According to the suit, Charlton Cash Chrisman, 40, was one of 20 detainees to die at the Oklahoma County Detention Center in 2016 and 2017.

Chrisman was arrested on April 18, 2017, after suffering a mental and psychological breakdown and crashing his vehicle through the door of a local hospital emergency room. He was taken to the jail, where staff was aware of his psychiatric history from a previous recent booking. He also had prescription antipsychotics on him. So he was placed in a solitary cell. But he was not given treatment, the suit claimed.

After he broke a sprinkler head in his cell, guards gaggled together outside his cell to “extract” him. Two of them, Colton Ray and Brian Harrison, were armed with long-barreled pepper-ball guns. As Chrisman’s cell door was opened, guards were overheard saying not to talk to Chrisman but rather, “Just shoot him.” Ray and Harrison then opened fire, repeatedly striking Chrisman with pepper balls at close range.

After the detainee was restrained, guards continued to beat him, dropping their body weight on him to place a “spit mask” over his head. However, because his eyes were tearing up and his nose stopping up from the pepper-ball spray, the mask only further inhibited his breathing, ultimately causing him to suffocate to death.

Ray and Harrison were charged for the assault. But the district attorney dropped the charges in 2018 “because of evidentiary issues.” Meanwhile Chrisman’s family filed suit in the Court in January 2018. Proceeding under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Oklahoma’s wrongful death statutes, 12 O.S. 2011, §§1053 and 1054, they accused guards of using excessive force and the county of failing to properly train and supervise them, in violation of the dead man’s civil rights.

Their claims survived Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on September 7, 2018. See: Chrisman v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152834 (W.D. Okla.). Thereafter, the Court sealed surveillance video of the death, agreeing that showing it could risk jail security. The legal back-and-forth then focused on expert testimony.

Defendants succeeded in getting the Court to bar testimony from Plaintiffs’ medical expert, Dr. Dan Naim, on September 29, 2021. But Plaintiffs had another expert, John Robert High, whose testimony regarding use of force in jail settings was largely allowed by the Court the following day. See: Chrisman v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 244651 (W.D. Okla.); and 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 245419 (W.D. Okla.).

After that, the parties proceeded to reach their settlement agreement, and the Court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiffs on July 28, 2022. Under the settlement terms, the county agreed to the $1.1 million payment, which included a structured settlement for Chrisman’s children, Caidance Chrisman and a minor child, identified as C.P.C.

Caidance will receive: (1) $300 a month beginning in October 2022 through May 2026; (2) an additional annual payment of $12,500, beginning August 2023 to August 2026; (3) another annual payment of $12,500 beginning December 2023 to December 2026; and (4) a monthly payment of $1,262.41 beginning June 2026 to April 2031.

C.P.C. will receive: (1) $300 a month beginning in June 2025 through May 2029; (2) an annual payment of $12,500 beginning August 2026 to August 2029; (3) another annual payment of $12,500 beginning December 2026 to December 2029; and (4) a monthly payment of $1,262.41 beginning June 2029 to December 2036.

Plaintiffs were represented by Oklahoma City attorneys Danny K. Shadid, David W. Lee and Melvin C. Hall of Riggs Abney Neal Turpen Orbison Lewis. See: Chrisman v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs, USDC (W.D. Okla.), Case No. 5:17-cv-01309.

County Commissioner Brian Maughan (R-Dist.2) estimated the payout will add $1 to each county property tax bill for the next three years. The jail recorded 14 deaths in 2021, an all-time high promptly eclipsed by the 16 deaths tallied in 2022.

Additional sources: KOCO, KOKH, KWTV, Journal-Record, The Oklahoman

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