After 17 days, 20 witnesses Elliott Williams’ case headed to the jury

The jury of eight people is expected to begin deliberations Friday.

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Elliott Williams lying paralyzed on a cell floor in Tulsa County’s jail on Oct. 25, 2011. Screenshot

After about three weeks of testimony from more than 20 witnesses, attorneys for the plaintiff and defense rested their cases Thursday afternoon in the civil trial of Elliott Williams 2011 death.

The court heard testimony from more than 20 people over 17 days. The jury is expected to hear closing statements from both sides Friday.

To prevail, Williams’ estate will need to show more than an isolated failure involving one inmate. Attorneys for the estate must prove the Sheriff’s Office was deliberately indifferent to Williams’ constitutional rights and that they were on notice of issues at the jail that were a direct cause of the deprivation of his rights.

After plaintiffs rested their case, defense attorneys called Steven Miller, the jail’s maintenance supervisor.

Miller, who maintains the jail’s surveillance and security system, testified about the video recording and storing system that captured Williams dying on a jail cell floor. The 10-minute video depicts Williams lying paralyzed over five days while detention staff tossed trays of food at his feet and placed a cup of water out of reach.

The 10-minute video depicts Williams lying paralyzed over five days while detention staff tossed trays of food at his feet and placed a cup of water out of reach.

Defense attorney Clark Brewster claimed the video failed to capture everything that happened, such as Williams eating, drinking and moving. Despite being challenged, attorneys have yet to offer any proof of that claim and U.S. District Judge John Dowdell has allowed the video as evidence.

Miller said although he believes there are many times the motion-activated recording system didn’t capture Williams moving his hands, he doesn’t believe Williams was walking, eating or drinking.

The jail’s recording system records video only when it detects movement. Its recording device likely would not have been triggered when Williams moved his hands, but would have captured him if he would have moved beyond that, Miller testified.

Williams, 37, died from apparent complications of a broken neck, records show. He was arrested by Owasso police after suffering a mental breakdown because he believed his wife planned to leave him.

Former Sheriff Stanley Glanz and current Sheriff Vic Regalado are defendants in the lawsuit by Williams’ estate, alleging his Eighth and 14th Amendment rights were violated. The jail’s former medical provider, Correctional Healthcare Companies Inc., settled with Williams’ estate and is no longer a defendant.

Defense attorney Clark Brewster probed Miller about the mechanics and settings used in capturing surveillance video at the jail.

Miller said video is recorded when the system senses a change in pixels (movement). It can also be triggered by changes in lighting.

“What is a pixel?” Brewster asked.

“A tiny dot on the screen,” Miller replied.

Though Williams was in the monitored cell for about 51 hours, the camera stored less than five hours. The camera did not pick up enough movement to record the remaining hours, Miller said.

Brewster asked if the camera didn’t sense Williams movement because he was lying on a dark blanket and was a “darker-skinned individual.”

Miller said that was possible.

Though Miller said the video shown to jurors wasn’t a “true, accurate representation” of Williams time in the cell, he agreed Williams never moved significantly, such as to walk, feed himself or get water. He said he never saw his feet move.

Charles Bradshaw, a chaplain at the Sheriff’s Office gave brief testimony Thursday about his encounter with Williams.

Bradshaw, the third and last witness called by the defense, said he sat outside Williams’ cell and prayed with him just hours before he died on Oct. 27, 2011.

Williams father called Bradshaw wanting to speak with his son, sounding desperate, Bradshaw said. However, jail policy doesn’t allow inmates on suicide watch to speak on the phone, he testified.

Nurses told the chaplain they were in the process of taking Williams off of suicide watch.

Bradshaw told Williams he was getting off suicide watch and his father wanted to speak with him. He told him three times because it seemed as if Williams wasn’t paying attention to him.

During cross-examination, plaintiff’s attorney Dan Smolen pointed out that Bradshaw originally told investigators Williams was wearing an orange jumpsuit and rolled around while speaking to him.

A surveillance video does not show Bradshaw walking up to Williams cell at the time the chaplain said he spoke with him.

Bradshaw said he was standing next to the cell door, just out of site of the camera. Asked whether he had any doubt he spoke to Williams and not a different inmate, Bradshaw said no.

Motion for summary judgment denied
After attorneys rested their cases, Dowdell heard a motion from the defense for summary judgment.

Defense attorney Guy Fortney said Williams’ case involved medical negligence instead of a civil rights violation. Staff wasn’t indifferent to Williams’ injury because they thought he was faking, he said.

Though Dr. Stephen Harnish, the jail’s psychiatrist, said he doubted Williams’ paralysis, he still took the steps to put him on suicide watch, Fortney said. Harnish was employed by CHC, not the Sheriff’s Office.

Though Harnish might have been wrong and misjudged the injury, he wasn’t indifferent, Fortney said.

“No one knew he was actually paralyzed,” he said.

Plaintiffs showed no evidence detention officers had a pattern of treating patients badly or that additional training from Sheriff’s Office administrators would have prevented Williams’ treatment, Fortney said.

“The same goes to physicians and nurses,” he said.

Smolen said it was clear to a layman Williams had serious injuries and jail staff’s indifference led to delay and denial of medical care. Evidence shows staff was aware and chose to ignore it, he said.

Glanz, who is named a defendant in his individual capacity, sought to improve the jail’s health care every time a problem arose. He even sought out consultants to audit the medical unit, Fortney said.

Smolen said Glanz took no action to eliminate risks to inmates’ well-being and health care. Instead, he ordered staff to hide medical charts in order to pass audits.

Dowdell denied the motion. The jury of eight people is expected to begin deliberations Friday.

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Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
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