In December 2013, 53-year-old Emmett Stanley Martin bled to death while imprisoned at the Oklahoma County Jail, after a dispute with 54-year-old jail supervisor, Andres Sanchez.
Sanchez is now being charged with second-degree manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty.
Over the past 15 years, the 13-story jail, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma has had many alleged problems, from unsanitary conditions to negligent care of inmates, poor medical care, and outright abuse of inmates.
A clerical worker at the jail even posted a YouTube video claiming inmates had been beaten right in front of her. The majority of those held at the jail have yet to be convicted of a crime, according to the Department of Justice.
Martin, a native of nearby Midwest City, was arrested in late November 2013 over a small claims case involving an unpaid legal bill of $US1,250 dating back to 2006. Martin was cited for contempt of court in 2011, and a judge issued a warrant for his arrest.
On Dec. 2, 2013, jail supervisors tried to give Martin an orange jumpsuit to change into before they moved him to a new cell, according to an affidavit filed in the criminal case against Sanchez. Martin refused to hand over the clothes he had been wearing and stuck his hand out of his cell to prevent officers from locking him in.
From there, things got violent. Sanchez subdued Martin with the help of other officers, pushing his face onto the jail floor outside the cell and jerking his arms up over his head, according to the affidavit filed in the criminal case. In the process, Sanchez and other officers allegedly delivered numerous blows to Martin and dislocated his right shoulder, causing massive internal bleeding and hemorrhaging. Martin also had a punctured lung and broke multiple ribs. He bled to death early the next day.
Martin’s death doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident. The Oklahoma County Jail has long been plagued by violence between fellow inmates and abuse by officers on inmates.
The Department of Justice started investigating the jail in 2003. In 2009, the DOJ released a report detailing the awful conditions at the jail, including unsanitary facilities, fire hazards, lack of clothing or showers, excessive inmate-on-inmate violence, and use of excessive force by jail officers.
The report found the jail was wildly overcrowded (with twice its rated capacity) and understaffed, which put undue stress on both inmates and officers. The report cited “an inordinately high number of use of force incidents” for the jail and noted that, often, by the time officers began using force, detainees were no longer resisting.
Sanchez’s attorney, Michael Johnson, told The Oklahoman that Martin died of injuries from a second, later struggle with other officers. Johnson declined to comment to Business Insider for this story.
In January, a judge ruled that prosecutors have enough evidence to go to trial. Key in the case is a video of the incident showing Sanchez subduing Martin with the help of other officers. The video has not been made public.
Jason Ruegge, an instructor with the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office, testified that Sanchez’s actions were far more extreme than what officers are trained to do.
“In my opinion, it’s punitive and it’s excessive. It was outside the scope of training and unreasonable, given the totality of the circumstances,” Ruegge said during testimony, according to the Oklahoman.
Similarly, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel, who is in charge of the jail, told The Oklahoman that the incident was “a disappointment.”
While the case involving Martin was extreme, jail guards have allegedly abused other prisoners who ended up suing the jail.
In December 2012, one-time inmate Dionne McKinney won a $US39,000 jury award after alleging jail detention officers beat her without provocation during a DUI arrest in 2003.
Aletia Timmons, the lawyer who represented McKinney, told Business Insider that cases of alleged officer-on-inmate violence are common at the jail.
“I’ve probably sued [the Jail] eight or nine times [for similar cases] over the last 10 years,” Timmons told Business Insider.
By Timmons’ estimation, there have been close to 75 lawsuits against the jail by inmates who have been abused by officers. According to her, most of the lawsuits never make it to trial. Timmons explained why the cases are so hard to prosecute.
“The officers either beat up people that were drunk or accused of some sort of drinking issue,” Timmons said. “Then you can cover up the beatdown by saying they fell or were belligerent and had to be subdued. There was a pattern to the beat-downs I saw there.”
Timmons attributes the violence to overcrowding, poor building conditions, and high staff turnover.
“[The officers] take some abuse over there,” she said, “but I see no excuse for some of the brutality that happens over relatively minor infractions.”
Martin was not the first inmate to die at the jail. In 2007 Christopher Beckman died of injuries sustained during a struggle with jail officers after his arrest for a DUI. His family got $US1 million in damages over the death.
The criminal trial against Andres Sanchez will take place over the next year, followed by an expected civil case that could run into damages that could near a million dollars.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department is still keeping an eye on the jail. After the release of the report, the DOJ gave the jail five years to make appropriate changes to the jail (detailed in this memorandum of understanding) while it remained under an open investigation. That deadline passed in November. The DOJ has said it will continue to monitor the jail.
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