Robinette: Former jail doctor’s practice of injecting inmates with placebos not indifferent

The jail's physician, Dr. Andrew Adusei, had also been “asked to leave the surgical residency program at OU,” a memo to the former acting sheriff states.

Donate
The Page Belcher Federal Courthouse. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Tulsa County’s former medical director gave inmates injections of a saltwater “placebo,” apparently because he thought they were faking illness, states a memo shown in the Elliott Williams trial Wednesday.

The memo arose during former Chief Deputy Michelle Robinette’s testimony Wednesday afternoon.

The former medical director, Dr. Andrew Adusei, was the subject of a 2012 memo from Maj. John Bowman to Robinette. The letter states that the jail’s psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Harnish,  “disapproves of some of Dr. Adusei’s actions.”

Adusei was giving inmates injections of a saltwater “placebo” — apparently because he thought they were faking illness — and giving inmates injections in their jugular veins. Adusei had also been “asked to leave the surgical residency program at OU,” Bowman’s letter states.

Bowman discussed concerns about Adusei with a CHC administrator, who assured him the doctor “would never purposely harm a patient. … If the matter needs to be addressed, CHC will do so.”

In the letter, Bowman says a CHC employee will “personally address the personality conflict” between Adusei and Harnish.

Asked whether Adusei giving placebos to inmates constituted indifference, Robinette said it did not. She said she didn’t see the practice as indifferent, but as “a personality conflict.” Since jail staff wasn’t trained on medical practices, the memo was highlighting the doctors’ issues getting along, she said.

Robinette testified she wasn’t told by medical staff of the situation but was “put on alert” when she received the memo.

Robinette is now serving in a newly created civilian job directing the jail’s mental health programming. While Robinette has served for many years as a jail administrator, it is unclear what her qualifications are for the job.

During earlier testimony, Robinette said she didn’t know whether Williams was faking when he claimed his neck was broken, had not looked at the autopsy and wasn’t involved in decisions about disciplinary actions of jail staff she supervised.

Robinette’s testimony came in the 16th day of a civil trial in federal court over Williams’ 2011 death.

Williams, a 37-year-old veteran with no felony record, died from apparent complications of a broken neck after languishing on a jail cell floor for days without food or water because he was paralyzed, 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.

Robinette said she met with Chris Rogers, CHC’s health services administrator, about the concerns involving Adusei. Rogers told her giving inmates injections through their jugular veins was a usual practice in the jail.

However, Robinette couldn’t recall whether Rogers said it was normal to inject saltwater rather than medications.

Robinette said Adusei was later dismissed. However, he wasn’t terminated by the company until seven months later, records show.

[Read The Frontier’s coverage of the civil trial involving Elliott Williams’ death.]

Robinette’s testimony Wednesday was the third day she took the stand. She also spoke about the treatment of Williams and other inmates by jail and medical staff.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Guy Fortney asked Robinette about the jail’s practice of sending inmates to the hospital.

On Feb. 27, former Sheriff’s Capt. Billy McKelvey testified about the jail’s practice of declining to send inmates to the hospital as a money-saving measure.

Jail administration never denied an inmate hospital care to save money, Robinette testified.

Under the contract between the jail and its healthcare provider, a cap existed on how much CHC would pay for inmates’ medical expenses outside of the jail, such as care provided in a hospital. When the cap is exceeded, the remaining costs fall to the county.

A similar cap exists with the county’s current medical provider, Turn Key Health Clinics. The contract covers up to $500,000 annually for hospitalizations and or other off-site medical services such as dental, X-rays and lab work.

Dan Smolen, an attorney representing Williams’ estate, listed the names of more than 20 people who died in the jail on Tuesday.

Robinette said some of the names sounded familiar but couldn’t recall how they died. On Wednesday, Robinette testified six of those inmates committed suicide.

Regardless of how an inmate dies, the incident is reported to the Oklahoma Department of Health’s jail inspector, which reviews it, Robinette said. She couldn’t recall the department citing the jail over any deficiencies in the way a death occurred.

In 2013, Robinette said during her deposition that Williams wasn’t properly fed or hydrated during his last days alive in Tulsa’s jail.

“He was given a styrofoam cup of water placed at his shoulder that he never drank that was kicked over by a doctor and never replaced,” her deposition states.

“And no time during that video did I see him go to them and eat any of the food out of them. None of my detention officers took the time to open the door to verify that he was eating or assist him any,” she said then.

On Monday, Robinette contradicted that statement, as well as many other previous statements in her deposition. Williams’ treatment was not inhumane, she said.

“There were Styrofoam trays and a cup of water” in his cell, she told Smolen.

During cross-examination Wednesday, Robinette said the jail’s obligation was to make food and water available to inmates but not to help inmates eat and drink.

Robinette said McKelvey’s investigation into Williams’ death found detention officer Carmelita Norris helped feed a sandwich to Williams. The report also found detention officer Dakota Walsh gave Williams water twice, she said.

McKelvey’s report also found Norris reported Williams was able to feed himself breakfast the morning he died. Video of Williams shows he was dead at the time her note indicated he was eating breakfast.

In an OSBI investigation of Williams’ death, Nurse Earnie Chappel also said he also gave Williams water.

The trial has also featured testimony from multiple witnesses about how some jail detention and medical staff falsified records in Williams’ case and also to pass audits for accreditation.

Robinette noted Chappel told investigators Williams “was able to move his legs, feet and toes.”

Robinette testified she had never heard such an order and that auditors chose medical charts to review at random.

Elliott Williams trial coverage

Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. To become a Friend of The Frontier, click here.

Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Contact: Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044.
Donate