Teen’s death in juvenile detention center result of neglect, indifference, lawsuit claims

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The estate of Billy Woods filed a federal lawsuit alleging deliberate indifference, neglect and cruel and unusual punishment on April 6.
When staff at a juvenile detention center in Muskogee County found 16-year-old Billy Woods unresponsive in his room in 2016, they allegedly shut the room’s door and didn’t call 911 for 20 minutes.

One staff member instead allegedly went on a cigarette break, telling another employee to not perform CPR on the youth.

The staff violated Billy Woods’ civil rights when they acted with “reckless neglect” and “deliberate indifference” toward the teen, who died by suicide in a regional juvenile detention center on Dec. 15, 2016, according to a federal suit filed last month by Woods’ estate.

Muskogee County Council of Youth Services — which operated the regional juvenile detention center at the time —  four of its employees, the Muskogee County Board of County Commissioners, and the state’s Office of Juvenile Affairs allegedly failed to ensure youth were safe and the facility had proper staffing and training.

The civil suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma on April 5, names juvenile facility staff members Jerrod Lang, Brandon Miller, Angela Miller and Marietta Winkle, as well as OJA executive director Steven Buck.



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Cindy Perkins, MCCOYS executive director, did not respond to a request for comment. An OJA spokeswoman declined to comment, citing pending litigation. Muskogee County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Kenny Payne also declined to comment because of pending litigation.

Lang, Angela Miller and Brandon Miller could not be reached and have not yet replied to the suit. A message left with Winkle’s attorney was not returned.

“Each of these detention workers had an opportunity and duty to help Billy,” the suit states. “Any one of these individuals could have — easily — saved Mr. Woods’ life have they followed simple procedures or even shown him a modicum amount of human decency.”

Woods’ estate sent notice of tort claim to the agencies in December, signaling its intent to sue.

An investigation by the state’s Department of Human Services Office of Client Advocacy last year found staff at the facility were mentally abusive to youth and failed to provide adequate supervision.

DHS issued final findings against four staff members: One case of mental abuse, and two cases of neglect as a result of lack of supervision.

Whether those findings were against any of the employees listed in the lawsuit is unknown. Under state law, Office of Client Advocacy investigative reports are considered confidential to the general public.

However, the civil lawsuit states the findings were against the employees named in the suit. OCA also found other youth were mistreated at the facility, according to the suit.

The DHS investigation found, “‘an unknown male resident was left unsupervised with access to a shaving razor for approximately four minutes” and “video showed the resident picking up the razor and rubbing his thumb over the blades.”

The OCA investigation also reportedly found facility staff failed to check on other residents for as long as two hours, despite documenting the checks took place every 15 minutes, the suit states. OCA reportedly found a staff member called another juvenile a “retard.”

“Lastly OCA found that the facility was not equipped with a ‘cut down’ tool for hanging victims or a defibrillator,” the OCA’s investigation reportedly found.

The day before his death, Muskogee police arrested Woods on a warrant that had been issued in Arkansas.

During the juvenile detention center intake process Woods told Lang, a shift supervisor, he “had tried to commit suicide a lot,” the suit states.

The lawsuit alleges Lang filled out a suicide risk assessment for Woods, but Woods did not sign it. However, he signed the other intake forms, according to the suit.

Though Lang was tasked with conducting the assessment, he had no formal training in psychology or psychiatry, the suit alleges. Additionally, neither MCCOYS or OJA trained him to detect suicide warning signs.

Woods’ suicide risk could have been lessened if staff would have followed the state’s juvenile detention standard by checking on him every 15 minutes, but they allegedly did not, the suit states.

On the day Woods died, staff had not checked on him for more than two hours, the lawsuit alleges. Despite that, staff allegedly falsified daily logs, stating they had checked on the youth, while video evidence shows none of the checks occurred, the suit states.

Additionally, Lang belittled Woods by making fun of the way he talked and his middle name, according to the suit.

Staff last checked on Woods around 6 p.m. the day he died and did not check on him again until after 8:30 that night, when they found him in his room unresponsive, the suit states.

Lang was the last employee to see Woods, according to a Muskogee Police Department incident report. Lang told police Woods gave him “multiple verbal responses” and “nothing seemed to be wrong” with him.

A daily log from the facility noted Woods wasn’t feeling well that day and wanted to stay in his room, according to the incident report. Lang told police he went to check on the youth an hour later and found him unresponsive.

According to the suit, when Lang found Woods unresponsive hours after staff last checked on him, the supervisor allegedly did not attempt to help him, check his vitals or remove the sheet from his neck, but instead closed the door to his room and told Miller not to conduct CPR.

“Lang exited the facility and ‘smoked a bunch of cigarettes,’” the suit states.

The detention center’s policy requires a staff member to administer first aid and another to immediately call 911, but 20 minutes passed before someone called, according to the lawsuit.

Lang allegedly stated he did not check on Woods because he was “in shock” and “panicked,” the suit states.

Winkle also entered Woods’ room and did not perform CPR or attempt to remove the sheet from his neck, according to the suit.

Lang’s handling of the incident was negligent and showed indifference to Woods’ medical needs, the suit alleges. Brandon and Angela Miller’s, and Winkles’ response also showed deliberate indifference, according to the suit.

The facility also allegedly had “severe” and “chronic” staffing deficiencies, the lawsuit states. Lang was employed at the detention center for only about four months, according to the suit.

MCCOYS operated the regional detention center, which is owned by Muskogee County, for 19 years before the Office of Juvenile Affairs revoked its license on Dec. 22, 2016, days after Woods was found unresponsive in his room.

Perkins gave a 30-day notice to terminate its contract in a March 13 letter to Muskogee County Commissioner Kenny Payne, the Muskogee Phoenix reported. Because the facility had been closed, MCCOYS was unable to pay the occupancy expenses, the letter stated.

Muskogee County paid MCCOYS $465,959 each year for 10 beds, according to its contract.

The Office of Juvenile Affairs Office of Public Integrity shows no concerns or violations were reported to inspectors at the facility in 2016, 2015 or 2014.

The suit seeks in excess of $75,000 for actual and punitive damages.


National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-8255

Related reading: 

DHS report: Abuse, lack of supervision found in juvenile facility where teenager died

Agency won’t release records from facility where juvenile died

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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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