A former Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office captain testified Monday in the civil trial over Elliott Williams’ death that the agency had a history of falsifying records, including in Williams’ case.
Dan Smolen, an attorney representing Williams’ estate, asked the former captain, Billy McKelvey, whether there were “numerous jail logs and witness statements and other records that were falsified” during Williams stay at Tulsa’s jail.
“Yes,” McKelvey replied.
During the fourth day of the civil trial in federal court over Williams’ death, McKelvey continued his testimony on Williams’ treatment in the jail and whether jail staff followed policies. McKelvey’s testimony has focused largely on a 2012 investigation he conducted into Williams’ death.
Smolen asked McKelvey whether Former Sheriff Stanley Glanz ordered suppression of information and manipulation of investigations.
“Yes,” McKelvey answered.
The lawsuit over Williams’ death names Sheriff Vic Regalado in his official capacity and Glanz in his individual capacity and alleges violations of Williams’ Eighth and 14th Amendment rights.
The jail’s former medical provider, Correctional Healthcare Companies Inc., was previously named but settled with Williams’ estate for an undisclosed amount.
U.S. District Judge John Dowdell set aside 15 days for the federal trial, which began Wednesday. It is the first of several civil rights lawsuits being tried this year over deaths and injuries in the jail under Glanz.
McKelvey testified on Friday about several jail records that were falsified in Williams’ case.
During McKelvey’s investigation, Capt. Tommy Fike estimated Williams was in the 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 agreed with Smolen that it would be a policy violation for the officers to lie about how long they left Williams in the shower but said no disciplinary action was taken.
Evidence shows that Detention Officer Ellen Beuttel recorded two checks for every one check she made on Williams, McKelvey said during Testimony on Friday. However, Beuttel was not disciplined for recording inaccurate information, he said.
On Monday, Smolen highlighted several policy violations that occurred while Williams was in the jail.
Smolen pointed out that the jail’s policy required inmates on suicide watch to be evaluated by mental health staff within 24 hours. McKelvey said Williams wasn’t evaluated, and he didn’t believe anyone was disciplined for the policy violation.
Owasso police paperwork indicated Williams was suicidal when they brought him to the Tulsa County’s jail.
Smolen then pointed to another jail policy that required possibly suicidal inmates to be kept under continuous watch until seen by mental health staff.
When asked whether the policy was followed in Williams’ case, McKelvey said no. He said he didn’t recall anyone being disciplined for the violation.
Testimony and records indicate Williams was left alone in a holding cell for more than 10 hours after he began claiming he thought he had broken his neck.
During cross-examination, Guy Fortney, an attorney representing the Sheriff’s Office, pointed out positions the Sheriff’s Office has in place to ensure employees at the jail are held accountable.
McKelvey, a former corporal with the Sheriff’s Office internal affairs unit, investigated Williams’ death. McKelvey told Fortney the purpose of the review was to see if there was any administrative wrongdoing.
“That’s a good thing, right?” Fortney ask McKelvey.
“Yes,” he replied.
Fortney said although McKelvey previously testified to several instances in which employees weren’t disciplined for policy violations, Fike and detention officer Tammy Hanley were “potentially disciplined.”
McKelvey said based on the findings of his investigation, he recommended Fike be disciplined, but he didn’t go before a disciplinary board because he retired.
Smolen asked McKelvey whether anyone notified Chief Deputy Michelle Robinette, who was supervising jail operations when Williams died, of Williams’ neck injury. Jail policy required inmates’ self-inflicted injuries to be reported within 24 hours.
“I would say no, they didn’t probably,” McKelvey answered. He said to his knowledge, no one was disciplined for the violation.
Exactly how Williams broke his neck is unclear. An Owasso police officer slammed Williams to the floor by his head and neck in the jail’s booking area.
Another inmate said he believed Williams rammed his head into his cell door. However, Smolen has questioned why that claim did not surface until more than a month after Williams’ death.
Smolen asked McKelvey about the Sheriff’s Office’s practice of trying to steer jail investigations in order to place the blame on its medical provider.
McKelvey said he knew the practice occurred and that it was done for “indemnification purposes.” He explained it was his understanding the practice was done in order to try to shift financial responsibility to the medical provider’s insurance company.
During cross-examination, Fortney reviewed how many jail employees compared to how many medical employees came into contact with Williams, and how much exposure they had to him. He said only a handful of jail staff actually came into contact with Williams and exposure they had to him was limited.
Fortney pointed out that doctors and nurses in the jail aren’t expected to provide security to inmates, and detention officers don’t have the duty to provide medical care. McKelvey agreed.
Fortney went on to explain the jail’s policy regarding detention officers handling situations wherein inmates need medical care. In almost every situation, jail policy requires jail staff to notify medical staff and leave it in their hands, he said.
Staff notified medical employees when they were concerned about Williams being unable to walk, Fortney said. When they called medical staff, they believed Williams would be going to the jail’s medical unit where he would receive proper care, he said.
A nurse in the jail’s booking room gives incoming inmates basic health assessments, Fortney said. However, Williams was never properly booked into the jail.
Fortney said on several occasions, medical staff checked on Williams and concluded he was medically OK and faking paralysis. Jail staff would be entitled to believe nurses because they’re qualified to provide medical care, he said.
McKelvey testified Thursday that jail staff had a practice of declining to send inmates to the hospital as a way to save money.
Under the contract between the jail and its healthcare provider, a cap existed on how much the provider would pay for inmates’ medical expenses outside of the jail, such as care provided in a hospital. When the cap is exceeded, the burden of the cost falls 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.
Fortney said McKelvey has no evidence that Tulsa County or Correctional Healthcare Companies Inc. was anywhere near the cap.
“So you can’t say Elliott Williams wasn’t sent to hospital because of the cap, can you?” he asked McKelvey.
McKelvey said he didn’t know whether the cap had been met or was near to being met.
During McKelvey’s testimony Monday, jurors saw post-mortem photos of Williams where blood appeared to be coming out of his mouth. When the pictures appeared, Williams’ siblings, who have watched the testimony in court each day, looked away.
A blanket Williams was lying on during the five days he was in the jail’s custody, which witnesses have testified was covered in feces and urine, was not photographed or maintained as evidence during the investigation of his death.
A photograph of a styrofoam cup of water placed at Williams’ feet while he was placed in the medical unit was also shown to the jury Monday morning.
Williams could not reach the cup because he was paralyzed. A Sheriff’s Office investigation found that Williams repeatedly told jail medical and detention staff he could not move and that he begged for help and water. The 12-minute video of Williams in the medical unit shows he received no medical treatment and that jail staff did not help him eat or drink.
The Styrofoam cup was the only water provided to Williams within the 51 hours before he died, and it spilled, McKelvey testified.
During cross-examination, Fortney said jail staff provided Williams with food and water during his stay in Tulsa’s jail as they’re obligated to do, and McKelvey agreed.
Juror receives phone call about case
Before McKelvey began his testimony, a juror came before Dowdell to voice concerns about a 10-minute phone call he received over the weekend.
The juror said an acquaintance called him and asked whether he was serving on the jury in Williams’ case. The juror said he was curious how the caller knew he was on the jury but stopped the conversation.
“I thought it was unusual,” the man said of the call. The juror said the caller was someone he “doesn’t hear from very often.”
After discussing the matter with the juror, Dowdell thanked him for reporting the incident and said he wasn’t concerned about the juror continuing to serve.