Medical examiner also testifies that Sheriff's Office failed to turn over video and accurate information on Williams
Elliott Williams didn’t receive a mental health screening as required by policy because he was “acting up” and needed to be placed in a holding cell to “cool down,” former Sheriff Stanley Glanz testified Wednesday.
Video played earlier for jurors in a civil trial over Williams’ 2011 death in the jail shows he merely stood up while waiting to be booked into the jail.
Former Sheriff Stanley Glanz testified for nearly three hours during the sixth day of a civil trial in U.S. District Court over Williams’ death in the jail. Glanz testified about his oversight of the jail leading up to when Williams died in his cell after suffering a broken neck.
Glanz acknowledged telling a Tulsa World reporter in 2005 that private medical providers had an incentive to cut corners on inmates’ medical care. At the time, Corrections Corporation of America operated Tulsa’s jail and Glanz was lobbying to assume control of the jail.
However six months later, Glanz took over jail operations from CCA and signed a contract that contained a cap limiting spending on outside medical care for inmates, testimony showed.
Under questioning by plaintiff’s attorney Dan Smolen, Glanz agreed that a provision of the contract capping spending on outside medical care saved money for the sheriff’s office and its contractor when inmates were not sent to the hospital.
The county’s 2010 contract renewal with its medical provider, Correctional Healthcare Companies Inc., required the sheriff to hire a full-time medical professional to oversee the contract. However, TCSO designated one of its existing employees, Capt. Rick Weigel, to fulfill that role.
Weigel had no medical training, but his wife was a nurse at a Tulsa hospital, Glanz noted.
Under questioning by Smolen, Glanz said he did not hire a full-time medical professional to advise him on the jail’s medical care — as required by the contract — until three years after Williams died.
Records show the 37-year-old veteran died in his cell Oct. 27, 2011, his repeated pleas for help unanswered by jailers and medical staff. A videotape of Williams’ last 51 hours shows him lying on his jail cell floor, unable to move most of his body while jailers tossed trays of food at his feet. Williams was unable to reach the food or the single cup of water jailers gave him.
A videotape of Williams’ last 51 hours shows him lying on his jail cell floor, unable to move most of his body while jailers tossed trays of food at his feet. Williams was unable to reach the food or the single cup of water jailers gave him.
Glanz, Tulsa County’s longest-serving sheriff, was elected in 1988 and resigned in 2015 after he was indicted by a grand jury.
Glanz was embroiled in a scandal over a fatal shooting by his wealthy friend, Robert Bates, who was allowed to serve as a volunteer deputy. Bates was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting of Eric Harris in 2015 and sentenced to four years in prison.
Glanz pled guilty to wilful violation of the law related to collecting car allowance while driving a county vehicle and no contest to refusal to perform official duty after he withheld a report about Bates’ lack of training.
Following the day’s testimony, Smolen said he believed Glanz’s testimony showed that the former sheriff “used his elected position to influence his friends’ receiving contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
“I believe the influencing of this process was one of many causes for multiple inmates dying in the Tulsa County Jail.”
Smolen noted that Glanz “acknowledged that he and he alone was responsible for inmates’ safety and well-being but was at a loss when asked about the specific policies.”
“He didn’t think there was anything wrong with what happened to Elliott Williams in the jail. … I am going to provide the sheriff an opportunity to explain to the jury why he doesn’t see what happened to Elliott Williams was a systematic failure.”
Attorney Clark Brewster, who represents the Sheriff’s Office, declined to comment regarding the testimony.
Smolen pointed out the jail’s policy required inmates on suicide watch that required possibly suicidal inmates to be kept under continuous watch until seen by mental health staff.
Glanz said Williams didn’t receive a proper mental health screening because he was “acting up” and needed to be put into a holding cell to “cool down.”
Smolen asked Glanz whether there were any policies regarding the “cooling down” process. Glanz said he couldn’t recall any.
Smolen then pointed to another jail policy that required possibly suicidal inmates to be kept under continuous watch until seen by mental health staff.
Glanz said Williams was being constantly watched because he was put in a holding cell with windows.
“Then why the broken neck mystery?” Smolen asked.
Glanz said he didn’t know and no one designated Williams to be put on suicide watch when he entered the jail’s custody.
“Except Owasso police designated Mr. Williams as suicidal,” Smolen said.
“Yes sir,” Glanz answered.
Owasso police paperwork indicated Williams was suicidal when they brought him to the Tulsa County’s jail.
Smolen again asked Glanz why Williams didn’t have a mental health screening when he entered the jail’s custody.
Glanz said Williams was disruptive and the decision to put him in a holding cell was appropriate, so staff didn’t get the screening completed like they should have.
Smolen asked whether Glanz had a problem that Williams received no mental health screening and he said no.
Billy McKelvey, a former Sheriff’s Office captain, investigated Williams’ death and completed an internal report with his findings. McKelvey testified in the trial over four days.
During McKelvey’s investigation, Capt. Tommy Fike estimated Williams was in a shower for about 30 minutes.
On Friday, Smolen showed McKelvey a hand-written logbook that indicated Fike and Sgt. Doug Hinshaw actually left Williams, who was paralyzed and laying down, in the shower for just under two hours.
McKelvey’s investigation found Fike and Hinshaw dumped Williams several feet off of a gurney, causing his head to strike the shower’s concrete floor.
Smolen asked Glanz why Fike and Hinshaw were never disciplined. Glanz said he doesn’t believe the incident happened.
“What evidence do you have that it didn’t?” Smolen asked.
“What evidence do you have it did?” Glanz replied.
Smolen answered he has four witnesses who told investigators they witnessed Fike and Hinshaw dumping Williams off the gurney.
Smolen referenced a 2007 audit that stated the jail failed to follow up with inmates with mental health needs. The report found follow-ups from mental health staff were inconsistent, not every inmate taking psychotropic medications was scheduled for a follow-up evaluation and there was a delay in responding to routine mental health-related requests.
Smolen asked Glanz whether he believed Williams had a proper follow up with mental health staff.
“I don’t know if everything was done that could have been done for Mr. Williams,” Glanz replied.
Smolen reminded Glanz that mental health staff didn’t see Williams until three days after he entered the jail’s custody.
Glanz said he didn’t know whether the nurses who examined Williams while he was in booking had mental health training. However, Williams was never properly booked in the jail.
Glanz said the noncompliance issues the 2007 audit found were corrected. When Smolen asked him what practices or policies were changed to correct the problem, Glanz said he didn’t know.
Smolen noted a handful of audits the Tulsa jail completed by agencies and requested from consultants between 2005 and 2015.
Glanz testified the audits, which he acknowledged cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, were completed between 2005 and 2015 with the goal of shoring up the jail’s medical care.
When Smolen asked whether Glanz believed they were helpful, he said yes. Smolen then asked why the audits were helpful when the jail never did anything to fix the issues the report found.
Glanz said anytime a problem was found it was corrected.
In testimony earlier Wednesday, the state’s chief deputy medical examiner discussed his autopsy on Williams. Dr. Joshua Lanter testified that while the medical examiner’s office was trying to figure out how Williams died, the Sheriff’s Office failed to provide jail video officials requested and withheld crucial details about Williams’ complaints of a broken neck.
Instead, TCSO told the state medical examiner’s office that Williams “refused” to move and was suicidal, a medical examiner testified Wednesday. Jail detention and medical staff concluded that Williams was faking his injury and did not seek emergency medical treatment for him.
Actually, a spinal cord injury, accompanied by a fractured vertebrae in his neck, likely caused Williams to suffocate on the floor of his Tulsa jail cell, an autopsy found.
Williams could have struggled to breathe for hours or even days before he suffocated due to the spinal injury, Lanter testified Wednesday.[Find all of The Frontier’s trial coverage in the Elliott Williams case here.]
Lanter, the deputy chief medical examiner for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office, performed the state autopsy on Williams. But Lanter performed that autopsy without jail surveillance video his office requested or important information on what happened to Williams during the six days he was held in the jail in 2011.
Lanter was the third witness to testify during the trial over a civil rights lawsuit filed by Williams’ estate against the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office. Defendants are Sheriff Vic Regalado and Glanz.
Lanter testified that his autopsy listed Williams’ cause of death as pending because additional information often surfaces later in such cases. He said the Sheriff’s Office did not tell the medical examiner’s office that Williams claimed he couldn’t move because he thought his neck was broken.
The medical examiner’s office requested video surveillance available through the Sheriff’s Office but was never provided a copy of the video, which shows Williams dying in the jail’s medical unit, Lanter tesitifed.
Attorney Tom Mortensen asked Lanter why the Sheriff’s Office never provided the video.
“No idea,” he replied.
Lanter’s autopsy concluded that the cause of death was complications of vetebrospinal injuries due to blunt force trauma. He said he is unsure what caused the trauma but said blunt force could include someone’s body hitting the floor or a wall or being struck by fists.
An investigation by the Sheriff’s Office revealed that Fike and Hinshaw dumped Williams several feet from a gurney onto a shower floor, causing Williams to strike his head. They left Williams laying in the running shower for nearly two hours while witnesses said he screamed for help, the investigation found.
A second autopsy, conducted by a private pathologist at the request of Williams’ family, found that Williams had a fractured vertebrae in his neck, Lanter said. He said the autopsy was performed by Dr. Collie Trant, a former chief medical examiner for Oklahoma.
“The information was initially that he refused to move … and that he was certainly on suicide watch and wanted someone to cut him open and that he was in pain,” Lanter said.
Mortensen asked Lanter whether he was told about Williams’ complaints of a broken neck or neck pain; Lanter said no.
“Specifically that there was neck pain, I hadn’t” been informed, Lanter said.
He said that information would have been helpful in his autopsy of Williams. Likewise, the description of Williams refusing to move was also influential, Lanter said.
“They said he refused to move, not that he was unable,” Lanter said. Refuse is a decision not to move, while not having the ability to is not, he said.
Mortensen asked Lanter what he would have done differently with Williams’ autopsy knowing the information surrounding his death.
Lanter said Williams’ case has changed his approach in how he conducts autopsies. He said he is now more thorough in his investigations and “treats every case as a suspicious death.”
In his autopsy of Williams, Lanter noted present heart disease but testified he didn’t believe it caused Williams’ death. A toxicology report found Williams had no drugs or alcohol in his system.
During cross-examination, Brewster pointed out that Lanter didn’t see any signs of injury that could point to medically-caused paralysis. Lanter said he only looked at the front or anterior of Williams’ neck for injury instead of the back, where Trant later found a hemorrhage on Williams’ spinal cord.
Lanter found Williams showed signs of slight to moderate dehydration, but testified it wasn’t the cause of his death.
Severe dehydration typically takes 100 hours or seven days to set in, Lanter said.
Brewster pointed out that Trant, who performed the second autopsy, was fired from his position as state medical examiner. The board that oversees the state ME’s office fired Trant in 2010 but refused to say why. He later filed a whistleblower’s lawsuit seeking his job back, records show.
Brewster asked Lanter if the Sheriff’s Office tried to conceal any information from the ME’s office about Williams’ death.
Lanter replied that he typically receives information from investigators assigned to cases at the ME’s office. Investigators rely on law enforcement agencies to give them pertinent information about each case, he said.
“We have to rely on people’s good faith,” Lanter told Brewster.
McKelvey, testified Tuesday that jail detention and medical staff failed Williams because they failed to follow through and communicate about his medical care.
McKelvey also testified about Williams’ treatment in the jail and whether jail staff followed policies. He gave several examples on instances staff broke protocol and weren’t disciplined afterward.
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