Over the course of five days, Tulsa deputies watched 37-year-old Elliot Williams slowly die on the floor of his cell.
According to court documents filed in Oklahoma District Court, in October 2011, Williams was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of resisting an officer. A U.S. military veteran, his family reports that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder while serving in the military.
On the night he was arrested, Williams’ family had taken him to a hotel in Owasso, OK, because he was having marital problems and experiencing symptoms of mental illness. His family states that he had not slept in days and was threatening to kill himself. While at the hotel, Williams reportedly caused a disturbance, resulting in Owasso police being called to the scene.
Once police arrived, Williams failed to comply with the officers’ orders, threatening to kill himself. Instead of waiting for mental health professionals, deputies pepper-sprayed him and placed him under arrest.
Once he was in police custody, court documents show that Williams began to slip further into his mental illness. He stripped himself of his clothing, crawled under a bench and began barking like a dog. The Frontier reports that he was transferred from the Owasso jail to the Tulsa jail, after these events.
In spite of repeated threats of suicide, Williams was never placed on suicide watch. Instead, he was placed in a regular holding cell. Less than an hour later he rammed his own head into a steel door. He fell to the floor and began crying out for help, telling jail staff that he couldn’t move and that he had broken his neck.
Over the course of the next ten hours, Williams remained motionless on the floor of the holding cell. He received no medical attention during this time. The Frontier reports that multiple staff, including jail supervisors, were aware of Williams’ condition.
The following morning Williams was visited by the jail nurse. Instead of providing medical attention, the nurse “cussed at and berated Williams, telling him that he should be ‘ashamed’ of himself, to get his ‘nasty ass’ in the shower, and to ‘quit fucking faking.’”
A short time later, two officers placed the paralyzed man on a gurney. According to court documents, they then “dumped Mr. Williams off the gurney into the shower where Williams hit his head with a ‘smack.’” Williams was left in the shower for three hours, unable to move.
Over the next three days, multiple members of the jail staff expressed concern about Williams’ condition. No one called for outside help or provided him with adequate medical treatment. During this time, a detention officer had to “pour water into his mouth” and feed him by holding his head up.
An LPN, Raymond Stiles, reportedly checked on Williams during this time. It is not clear what kind of treatment or examination Stiles provided to the paralyzed man, but in a ‘progress note,‘ written after the visit, the nurse wrote “Wants to be waited on.”
On October 24, Williams was also briefly visited by John Bell, a member of the jail’s mental health staff. Williams told Bell he was paralyzed and told him “I want water.” Bell’s notes state that he provided Williams with ‘coping skills education.’
On October 25, Williams was seen for 12 minutes by Dr. Stephen Harnish, the jail psychiatrist. Again he repeated his claim that he had broken his neck and could not move. Harnish also ignored his condition. As noted in the court records:
“Instead of providing or ordering medical care, Harnish ordered jail staff to place Mr. Williams in Medical Cell number 1, which would be his burial crypt. … The remainder of Williams’ life was recorded by a video camera.”
Watch the video below, courtesy of The Frontier.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge John Dowdell ruled that a lawsuit filed by Williams’ family could proceed.
In his ruling, Dowdell stated:
“A reasonable jury could find that Mr. Williams’ needs were obvious to any layperson. They could also find that the medical unit-wide attitude of inhumanity and indifference shown to him, which resulted in the delay and denial of medical care in the face of his symptoms that were obviously indicative of a serious medical condition or medical emergency, amounted to deliberate indifference.”
Featured image via video screen capture via The Frontier on Vimeo