Evidence in lawsuit alleging negligence in Ottawa County inmate’s death is made public
A federal negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against an Ottawa County sheriff and others is back in the headlines after evidence in the case was made public on Friday, Jan. 24,2020. The lawsuit alleges an inmate was allowed to die despite his repeated pleas for help that were captured on jail videotape.
OTTAWA COUNTY, Okla. (AP) — A federal negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against a northeastern Oklahoma county, its sheriff, former sheriff, jailers, nurse and others alleges an inmate was allowed to die despite repeated pleas for help that were captured on jail videotape.
The lawsuit filed in 2017 by the estate of Terral Ellis Jr. and Ellis’ parents alleges the Ottawa County jail’s nurse and staff ignored or disregarded Ellis’ pleas for days until finding him unconscious on Oct. 22, 2015, when he was taken to a hospital where he died of sepsis and pneumonia.
“Help,” a voice identified as Ellis’ is heard repeating numerous times on the video. “Somebody help.”
Other voices, including those of former jailer Charles Shoemaker and former nurse Theresa Horn, were identified through depositions with them, Smolen said.
“We’re not calling the ER,” Shoemaker said at one point. “We did that the other day.”
Ellis is later heard telling Horn that his back was broken.
“Listen to me and shut up,” Horn said. “We had EMS come over and check you out and there ain’t a damn thing, nothing wrong with you, you understand me?”
Attorneys for Horn and Shoemaker did not immediately return phone calls to The Associated Press on Wednesday.
“It’s a horrific, horrific death,” Smolen said. “It’s jarring.”
Each defendant, including current Sheriff Jeremy Floyd (who was not Sheriff at the time) and former Sheriff Terry Durborow, in the lawsuit filed a motion to dismiss the case.
Durborow and one jailer have been dismissed from the lawsuit. Smolen said he agreed to the dismissal so as not to delay the lawsuit.
Ambre Gooch, attorney for Floyd, did not return a phone call for comment, but said in an email to the online news outlet The Frontier that the current sheriff is not responsible for what happened.
“While Mr. Ellis’ death is of course sad and unfortunate, it was not caused by any action or inaction of the Sheriff in his official capacity,” Gooch wrote.
Ellis had surrendered at the jail in Miami, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) northeast of Tulsa, 12 days prior to his death and arrested on a failure to appear warrant for a past driving under the influence charge, Smolen said.
“He was healthy,” suffering only asthma. “He had no complicated medical history,” according to Smolen.
“This was a situation that Mr. Ellis became ill at the jail,” although it is not known where or when he developed pneumonia according to Smolen.
Sepsis is a condition in which the body’s response to an infection can damage the organs, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Despite begging the jail staff to help him, they just mocked him and refused to do it,” Smolen said.
The lawsuit seeks punitive and compensatory damages in excess of $75,000 for each, in addition to attorney fees.