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Oklahoma County jail inmate deaths attributed to inadequate medical care, records show

An attorney says Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel and the Oklahoma County board of commissioners are responsible for failure by the county jail's former medical contractor to provide medications and proper staffing.
by Tim Willert Published: March 25, 2013

In the days leading up to his death, Charles Holdstock and other inmates in need of medical attention often languished on the 13th floor of the Oklahoma County jail, waiting for assistance, court documents indicate.

Many sat handcuffed to a bar for hours, only to be returned to their cells without seeing a nurse or doctor, according to documents filed in connection with Holdstock's May 15, 2009, death.

“I hear they got charged $15 to be taken up and seen by medical staff,” a physician assistant for the jail's former medical provider testified in a sworn deposition. “We would never see them. They'd be sent back down, and they got charged.”

Oklahoma Health Department investigators found another seven men died while in jail custody during a year-and-a-half period before Holdstock's death because they did not receive proper medical treatment.

Holdstock, 63, was in poor health and needed to get his pacemaker checked when he was brought to the jail's medical floor in March 2009.

The physician assistant tried scheduling an appointment with an off-site cardiologist but the request was never carried out.

“I know that he was not seen because this man kept coming back, you know, kept putting in sick calls, which he paid for, to come back and see me just to ask to have his pacemaker checked,” said the assistant, who requested anonymity.

Less than two months later, Holdstock was dead.

Family files lawsuit

His three daughters sued Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel, county commissioners and the jail's former medical provider, claiming their father was denied his constitutional right to adequate medical care while in custody.

Whetsel declined to comment on the Holdstock case, which is pending.

A judge blocked a trial, ruling the claims against Whetsel and the county lacked merit. The family settled out of court with the medical provider, Correctional Healthcare Management of Oklahoma.

An appeals court reinstated the case, citing years of warnings about serious jail deficiencies as their basis for reopening it.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded earlier this month that “a reasonable jury could find that Sheriff Whetsel and the County acted with deliberate indifference” to substandard jail conditions that may have caused Holdstock's death.

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by Tim Willert
Education Reporter
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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