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Oklahoma County sheriff accused of releasing inmates to avoid medical bills, suit claims

OU Medical Center is suing Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel, accusing the elected lawman of releasing sick inmates just before they are admitted to the hospital in order to avoid paying for their treatment.
by Andrew Knittle Published: April 29, 2013

Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel is being accused of releasing sick inmates just before they are admitted to the hospital in order to avoid paying for their treatment.

In one case, records show an inmate was released on their own recognizance even though he or she wasn't in court when the judge signed the order.

In the space where the inmate would have signed their name, there is instead a handwritten note, in all capital letters.

“Not signed, defendant in hospital ... incoherent,” the note reads. “Sheriff will serve a copy of this bond to (the) hospital.”

The inmate's name is redacted from court records, but the criminal charge the individual was being held on before being released was “robbery in the first degree,” a violent felony.

Filed by OU Medical Center, the suit claims the sheriff's office owes the hospital nearly $1 million and accuses Whetsel of essentially abandoning patients to circumvent a state law that requires counties to pay for the medical costs of prisoners in their custody.

From March 2011 to February, the lawsuit alleges the hospital treated 37 inmates from the Oklahoma County jail. The hospital claims those medical bills totaled $976,487.

Court records reveal that the sheriff's office has paid only $52,402 of that total.

“The sheriff and county have either refused to pay for the care provided to a particular patient or unilaterally decided to pay some amount less than what was due and owing,” the hospital's attorneys wrote in the petition, which was filed April 5 in Oklahoma County District Court.

Whetsel, who has not responded in court, told The Oklahoman in a prepared statement that “there is not much information which can be provided” at this time.

“While the petition raises a unique and somewhat confusing theory of liability which OUMC wishes to place upon the county, the petition does not include particulars of their specific claims which would allow our financial division to ascertain whether the claims were legitimate charges against the county,” the sheriff said.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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