Okla. detention officer fired after jail suicide

The inmate, who was being held in a mental health unit, had not been checked in almost 12 hours


By Nolan Clay
The Oklahoman
        
OKLAHOMA CITY — A detention officer at the Oklahoma County jail was fired Monday, one day after an inmate was found hanging in his cell.

The inmate, Gabriel Yalartai, 40, died.

The detention officer, Jesse Kight, failed to conduct required checks of the cell during his shift, officials said.

The Oklahoma Health Department has repeatedly cited the jail for missing required cell checks; a surprise inspection in October reported only 10 detention staff were assigned during one overnight shift to cover seven floors holding 1,690 inmates.
The Oklahoma Health Department has repeatedly cited the jail for missing required cell checks; a surprise inspection in October reported only 10 detention staff were assigned during one overnight shift to cover seven floors holding 1,690 inmates. (Google Maps)

Yalartai had not been checked in almost 12 hours, officials said. He was supposed to be checked every 30 minutes because he was being held in a mental health unit.

He was discovered "attempting suicide in his cell" at 4:20 a.m. Sunday, the jail said in a news release. He had last been seen by an officer at 4:55 p.m. Saturday when he was brought food, officials said.

"The safety and security of the detainees and staff is of the highest priority," the jail's administrator, Greg Williams, said Monday. "Preliminary indications of misconduct in this case may lead to charges against the detention officer. Staff must and will be held accountable for not following policies and procedures."

Kight had worked at the jail since June. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

The Oklahoma Health Department has repeatedly cited the jail for missing required cell checks.

Health inspectors who conducted a surprise visit in October reported only 10 detention staff were assigned during one overnight shift to cover seven floors holding 1,690 inmates.

Yalartai was charged last year with first-degree robbery after he allegedly took a woman's car keys at a gas pump in Oklahoma City.

He had been awaiting transportation to a state mental facility in Vinita since August after being found incompetent to face prosecution. The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services reported in October he was 53rd on a list for admission to the full facility.

He spent more than a month at the facility in Vinita in 2020 because of his mental issues.

An Oklahoma County grand jury was seated in October to investigate the poor living and unsafe conditions at the jail just west of downtown Oklahoma City.

A trust took over operation of the jail 18 months ago.

Fifteen other Oklahoma County jail inmates have died this year. Two were this month.

Inmate Jimmy DeWayne Lube, 50, died Dec. 22 after being hospitalized for two weeks for what the jail called preexisting health-related issues. Inmate Lucas Gonzales, 27, died Dec. 13.
   
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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