Days after a hostage situation at the Oklahoma County Jail left one inmate dead and a detention officer hospitalized, Oklahoma City-based Turn Key Health notified jail administrator Greg Williams today that the company intends to terminate its medical services contract with the jail if staffing levels are not improved.
Williams manages the day-to-day operations of the jail on behalf of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, commonly called the “jail trust.” Turn Key Health provides medical services at the Oklahoma County Jail and facilitates payments to hospitals when necessary.
“Please accept this as formal notice of defect pursuant to Section 3.3.A.1 (of our contract),” wrote Flint Junod, CEO of Turn Key Health. “Please be advised that pursuant to the same subsection of the contract, we are giving the jail until April 29, 2021, to increase its staffing levels to ensure we are able to have detention staff available to complete medication pass and fulfill our other obligations under the contract, and to ensure adequate detention staff is available to maintain the safety and security of our employees at the Oklahoma County Detention Center.”
The letter says that if staffing levels are not improved prior to April 29, the company “will have no choice but to terminate our contract for cause effective May 31.”
Trust member: ‘I think it was a quick reaction’
Jail trust member Ben Brown said he regrets today’s decision by Turn Key Health, but he also praised the efforts to turn around the jail by Williams and trust Chairwoman Tricia Everest.
“The jail trust was dealt a hand when we got it that was very difficult,” Brown said. “Having said that, I think Greg Williams has done an incredible job. I think Tricia Everest is a detail-oriented person who is also doing an incredible job. I think it’s sad Turn Key is (potentially) pulling out, but I understand that they want their staff to be safe. But I regret they are taking this action. I think it was a quick reaction. I’m not sure what their thought process was, and I’m not in their shoes. But I know we have to solve this problem with the jail staff. Again, to point out the obvious, but with the kind of problem we inherited, its a multi-year process at best to get it to where it needs to be and where people want it to be as a facility.”
House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols (R-OKC) is co-founder and president of Turn Key Health. Echols declined comment on the matter.
Inmate shot during hostage situation identified
Turn Key’s letter to the jail comes on the heels of another death at the long-troubled facility on Saturday. Oklahoma City police identified the man shot by its SWAT team as Curtis Montrell Williams, 34. Williams died after taking a detention officer hostage.
Williams has a lengthy criminal history dating back to at least 2005, and he has been at the jail for nearly two years on rape and felony weapons possession charges. In February, charges were filed against Williams by Oklahoma County for assault and battery on a detention officer stemming from a Jan. 11 incident.
The hostage situation and Williams’ subsequent death sparked a weekend protest by local activists who have been critical of the jail trust. Oklahoma County District Attorney also unleashed criticism on the jail trust, telling Dale Denwalt of The Oklahoman that the administration has been “incompetent.”
“It’s never been so understaffed. It’s never been so corrupt and it’s never been so dangerous,” Prater said.
A rough year for the jail
The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, otherwise known as the jail trust, took over daily operations of the facility from the Oklahoma County Sheriffs Office on July 1, 2020. But an organization intended to ease concerns about the jail from the public and make it a better place for those housed within has instead found itself mired in controversy and awash in problems that some members say were inherited.
Since the trust took over, nine inmates have died at the jail, including Saturday’s fatal shooting. That total includes five so far this year.
On two occasions, people have also escaped from the facility since the trust began its administration, including one attempt that involved two inmates creating a rope out of bed sheets and escaping through a 12th-floor window in July. Another inmate walked away from the jail in January through an open garage door.
Detention officers have been fired for passing contraband to inmates. Last summer, COVID-19 cases grew at the jail even as case numbers outside of it declined. At least one inmate died from an infection, and hundreds of inmates were forced to be quarantined. The jail trust also found itself mired in controversy over how it would spend CARES Act money.