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.
Appellate judges decided 3-0 that Holdstock's daughters should get an opportunity to prove their claim.
“That's all we wanted in the first place was a jury trial,” said E.W. Keller, the Oklahoma City attorney representing Holdstock's family. “To me it's a very egregious case.”
Between May 28, 2007, and Jan. 1, 2009, seven men died while incarcerated because they did not receive proper medical treatment, reports from Oklahoma Health Department investigators show.
The inmates suffered from various conditions, including sepsis, seizures and heart trouble.
In each case, investigators found that the jail's ex-medical contractor failed to provide prescription medications, medical equipment and supplies or document medical encounters.
Keller also represented the families of two other men who died in custody. Both cases settled out of court for amounts kept confidential as part of the agreements, the attorney said.
In Holdstock's case, there was no evidence he ever received follow-up care recommended by doctors in 2008 for a pacemaker he had.
The judges found the jail's medical provider, Correctional Healthcare Management of Oklahoma, didn't follow up on abnormal blood test results two weeks before Holdstock died.
Dr. Ralph Lazzara testified in a deposition that the death “could have been prevented” if Holdstock had been treated for kidney failure that was reasonably likely to have been caused by the pacemaker not working.
Lazzara, formerly chief of cardiology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, said the abnormal blood results were related to kidney failure.
Commissioner terminated its contract with Correctional Healthcare Management of Oklahoma in September 2009 and sued the company in October 2010, claiming breach of contract, unjust enrichment and fraud, court records show.
“Suffice it to say, there have been significant changes that have been brought about by our (current) medical provider,” Whetsel said Friday.