Woman's death in custody stirs battle over estate

BY PHILLIP O'CONNOR poconnor@opubco.com Published: March 8, 2013
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A police officer helping gather Russell's things found two bottles of prescription pills that did not belong to her.

A doctor declared Russell fit for incarceration. The officer arrested her on narcotics possession charges and took her to the Garvin County jail, where she was found unresponsive in a holding cell two hours later. About 11 p.m., an ambulance carried her back to the hospital where she was pronounced dead soon after arrival.

The state medical examiner ruled the cause of death was a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, a condition in which an embryo implants outside the womb. While fairly routine and easily diagnosable, the condition always is fatal for the baby, but the death of the mother usually is preventable.

Hospital officials have said they cannot comment on the details of Russell's treatment but that they would investigate the case.

State officials also are investigating.

Jamie Russell's sister, Stefanie Fisher, is seeking court approval to represent her sister's estate on behalf of the son and has hired a lawyer to pursue a malpractice claim.

Fisher declined to comment through her lawyer.

In a statement last month, the lawyer, Heather Mitchell, said implications that Jamie Russell was a drug abuser were inaccurate and that a drug screen administered when Russell entered the hospital detected no drugs in her system.

Mitchell said the narcotics discovered by police belonged to an elderly aunt, with whom Russell lived and served as caretaker. Mitchell declined to comment for this story.

After Russell's death, Sheriff Larry Rhodes called the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to look into the incident.

The bureau turned over its report to the Garvin County district attorney's office Feb. 21.

First Assistant District Attorney Mark Gibson said Thursday in a telephone interview he'd yet to review the file to determine whether charges should be filed in the case.

Asked why he'd yet to do so given that the case involved the death of a woman in police custody, Gibson responded, “I don't answer to you. Bye,” and hung up.

In court

At the time of Jamie Russell's death, Bruce Russell sat in the Cleveland County jail.

Police arrested him Dec. 8, after a car wreck, and he faces several charges including felonies for drunken driving and having three children in the vehicle.

On Dec. 10, Russell requested he be released on a personal recognizance bond. On the application, he identified himself as single.

On Dec. 21, Russell submitted another application, this time seeking a court-appointed attorney. He again identified himself as single.

Under “spouse's name,” he wrote, “Kristin Knight,” indicated that she was his fiance and that they lived together in Norman, along with three children, including a 2-month-old baby that bears his last name.

While still in jail on charges for which he swore he could not afford an attorney, another attorney representing Bruce Russell filed the paperwork in Garvin County seeking control of Jamie's Russell's estate.

Bruce Russell was released from jail Jan. 18. Thursday, he waived a preliminary hearing in the latest drunken-driving case, and a judge ordered an April 24 trial.

A court hearing to determine who gains control of the Jamie Russell's estate has yet to be scheduled.

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