Constant overcrowding at the Oklahoma County jail and administrative indifference to hazardous conditions inside the facility are to blame for a former inmate living out his days in a vegetative state, a lawsuit filed by the man's family claims.
The lawsuit alleges that Edward Levi Kuslak, 26, was detained at the Oklahoma County jail following a September 2008 car accident involving his fiancee, who died. The suit was filed Sept. 20 in federal court.
Within days of Kuslak's incarceration, he attempted suicide by hanging himself. The suit claims Kuslak is now brain dead and lives his life in a vegetative state.
Kuslak's parents are suing Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel and the Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners for an unspecified amount of money.
The lawsuit references a July 2008 report on the Oklahoma County jail prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice. The report, which took years to compile, found that “the Oklahoma County jail posed a serious risk for suicidal detainees.”
Kuslak was incarcerated at the jail about six weeks after the report was released, records show. He was never charged with any crime related to the accident.
“The report found that the jail's classification system was compromised by ‘overcrowded conditions at the facility' and that the jail ‘does not have enough available cells to match the classification level of the detainees,'” the family's attorney, Linda Alexander, wrote in a petition.
“This coincides with the movement of Levi from the medical floor (13) to a cell on floor 12, without clearance of medical personnel for purposes of ‘population control,' and without any medical basis.”
According to court documents, Kuslak attempted suicide by hanging himself from ventilation grilles in his cell. The man's family claimed they alerted jail staff that Kuslak may try and harm himself, but that little to nothing was done about their concerns.
In the Department of Justice report, which is signed by an assistant U.S. attorney, the grilles are mentioned specifically as a hazard to inmates who might be prone to suicide attempts.
“During our inspection, it was also clear that housing facilities for suicidal detainees do not include necessary safety features,” the attorney wrote of the Oklahoma County jail.
“For instance, cells have ventilation grilles and other fixtures that have not been modified to minimize the risk that they may be used by a detainee to facilitate a suicide attempt.”
The report also pointed out that juvenile cells were particularly troubling.
“They are painted dark colors, making visibility of the inside of the cell difficult,” the attorney wrote. “The bunks are affixed in a manner that makes it possible for a juvenile to tie a ligature to the structure in order to commit suicide.”
Since the report came out, Whetsel told The Oklahoman in March that more than $10 million has been spent to address the deficiencies identified by the Department of Justice.
Mark Myers, a sheriff's office spokesman, said the agency does not comment on pending lawsuits.
Attempts to reach Alexander, the attorney representing Kuslak's family, were not successful.