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Oklahoma County pays $1 million to settle lawsuit over jail inmate's death

Christopher Beckman, 34, of Choctaw, died of head injuries in 2007 after a struggle with Oklahoma County jail guards.
BY NOLAN CLAY Modified: June 6, 2011 at 12:34 am •  Published: June 6, 2011

Oklahoma County in May paid $1 million to settle a lawsuit over an inmate's death, court records show.

County commissioners approved the settlement of the civil case in Oklahoma City federal court. It will result in a small tax increase for Oklahoma County property owners, officials said.

Sheriff John Whetsel, who oversees jail operations, said, “While I can't comment on the specifics of the settlement, the commissioners acted in a manner believed best to protect the taxpayers of Oklahoma County.”

The inmate, Christopher Beckman, 34, of Choctaw, died in a hospital May 28, 2007, two days after a lengthy struggle with jail guards in his second floor cell, just outside his cell and inside a 13th floor jail medical clinic.

The concrete worker had been jailed early May 24, 2007, on driving under the influence and other minor complaints. The struggle began after he either suffered or faked a seizure, according to testimony at a former guard's criminal trial.

A state deputy chief medical examiner concluded Beckman died of blunt force head trauma.

His estate sued county commissioners, the sheriff, jail guards and the jail's former health care provider. In settling the lawsuit, the county and sheriff did not admit to any liability.

The estate reached a separate confidential settlement with the health care company, Correctional Healthcare Management of Oklahoma, court records show.

Tax increase

The property tax increase will be spread out over three years and be very small. County Treasurer Butch Freeman said, for instance, the owner of a $150,000 house will pay a dime more a year the next three years.

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