Okla. jail barred from holding juveniles after surprise inspection, negligence in inmate death

The inspection report further verifies the inability of the jail trust to safely and appropriately operate the facility, said the D.A.


By Nolan Clay
The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City
        
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma County jail has been barred from holding juvenile inmates after the Health Department found repeat deficiencies during a surprise inspection and negligence in the death of an adult inmate.

"As a result of that inspection, your facility was found to be not in substantial compliance with ... regulations," officials from the Health Department and the Office of Juvenile Affairs told the jail administrator Tuesday.

"Therefore, effective upon receipt of this letter, the Oklahoma County Detention Center is no longer certified to house juvenile inmates."

The announcement is the latest in a string of scandals that have rocked the Oklahoma County Jail since being taken over by the jail trust last year.
The announcement is the latest in a string of scandals that have rocked the Oklahoma County Jail since being taken over by the jail trust last year. (Google Maps)

The Health Department found dozens of violations during the unannounced inspection June 23 even though jail officials had promised in May to make changes.

It also found violations of procedures after a review of the June 24 inmate death.

"Decades of physical plant neglect and poor construction cannot be overcome in a few months," the jail administrator, Greg Williams, said after getting the 60-page report on the violations.

"We remain committed to making all necessary repairs to the facility to improve the safety and quality of life for all who work and live within its walls," he said. "While the staff and contractors have worked diligently and over long hours to make the infrastructure improvements that are already completed, there is much more to be done."

District Attorney David Prater said the inspection report further verifies the inability of the jail trust to safely and appropriately operate the 13-story facility just west of downtown Oklahoma City.

"I am again calling for the dissolution of the trust and for the jail's operation to revert back to the sheriff where it should be pursuant to the Oklahoman Constitution," the district attorney said.

Only 14 inmates under 18 were being held at the jail Tuesday, the jail administrator said. Thirteen are charged with first-degree murder, and prosecutors said the ban will not apply to them.

"It is our opinion, based on the statutory definitions, that murder one defendants still could be housed at the Oklahoma County jail," Prater said.

The ban does apply to a 17-year-old defendant who was being held on felony counts of armed robbery and assault and battery with a deadly weapon.

"We do have one that we will need to do something with," Williams told The Oklahoman. "We'll just get with some of our partners and see what we need to do before Friday."

The ban also means police and sheriff's deputies will no longer be able to take suspects under 18 to the jail after arrests involving accusations of rape, robbery or other serious offenses.

Oklahoma County does have a separate juvenile detention center in north Oklahoma City.

On the death at the jail, the Health Department specifically found the inmate was never examined even though he was involved in a use of force incident at the time of his arrival.

He also was never given the required medical screening upon admission.

The Health Department reviewed hours of video surveillance to arrive at those conclusions.

"Video observation of the booking areas and outside inmate #2 cell, which is also located in the booking area, revealed no visits from medical staff for the duration of detention," the report stated.

The inmate, Lee Chouteau, died in the holding area June 24 about 15 hours after he was booked into the jail on an accusation of drunken driving, officials said. He was 31.

"The facility failed to ensure all ... inmates involved in a use of force incident receive an immediate physical inspection, and if affected by the action, shall receive a medical examination and treatment," the Health Department noted.

The inspection in June was a follow-up to an annual inspection in February.

Both times, inspectors found a bedbug infestation, cockroaches, overcrowded cells, insufficient staffing, missed sight checks, standing water, trash, cold showers and problems with the emergency phone system in inmate housing pods.

Sight checks were missed 83 times from June 18 through 23 on inmates housed in a suicide watch/observation area, according to the latest report. They were supposed to be checked every 15 minutes.

"Several juvenile male inmates stated they only see staff in the pod during meal time," according to the latest report. They are supposed to be checked every 30 minutes.

On the fourth floor, inspectors in June found inmates were able to move between four cells through holes knocked out of the concrete block walls.

"Five inmates were observed in cell #8 with black eyes," according to the report. "Four inmates were observed in the adjoining cell #7."

Next: Oklahoma County inmates dig hole in jail wall to smuggle in phones, other contraband
     
(c)2021 The Oklahoman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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