With Oklahoma County Jail administrator Greg Williams expected to resign at Monday’s meeting of the Criminal Justice Authority, a new report from the State Department of Health is adding even more scrutiny about the management of the long-troubled facility.
During an announced inspection of in October, OSDH investigators found that the Oklahoma County Jail is out of compliance with state statutes and highlighted some deficiencies that may have contributed to a flood of deaths and recent sexual misconduct incidents investigated at the jail.
Inspectors visited the jail Oct. 11 and 12, and OSDH detention program manager Barry Edwards outlined the findings in a letter addressed to Williams on Nov. 8.
“Based on the deficiencies cited, please be advised that the facility was found to be not in substantial compliance with the aforementioned regulations,” Edwards wrote.
The report comes on the heels of several sexual misconduct incidents and deaths at the jail this year. In July, a male detainee at the jail was recorded on video seeming to rape a female detainee who was handcuffed to a wall. Dontae Ramone Thomas, 44, was charged with first degree rape.
In October, four unsupervised detainees were found engaged in sex acts while in the intake area of the jail. That incident was consensual, Williams said in a statement released at the time.
Also in October, a detainee reported that he had been sexually assaulted by his cellmate.
Deaths have also been numerous. The jail has seen 15 detainees die so far this year, eclipsing last year’s 14 deaths. Renee Houston, 57, died Nov. 19 following a medical emergency.
Some of the deaths have been ruled suicides. Others have been drug overdoses. In May, 25-year-old Eddie Garcia was found unresponsive in his cell. The State Medical Examiner later determined his death to be the result of a fentanyl overdose.
Missed sight checks highlighted
Jail employees are required to conduct at least one visual sight check each hour for each cell and log each inspection. In the most recent OSDH inspection report, numerous incidents of employees not following procedures were outlined. Some included:
- Thirty inmate housing log books dated from Sept. 30 to Oct. 1 revealed 1,198 missing sight checks across the facility;
- A review of records for 13 inmates in one housing pod who require increased observation of 30-minute sight checks revealed 25 sight checks were not documented between Oct. 8 and Oct. 11;
- Review of another housing log book found inmates required to be visually sight checked every 15 minutes were not. Inspectors found 156 incidents between Oct. 8 and Oct. 11 where sight checks were not conducted;
- Detainees on suicide watch requiring sight checks every 15 minutes were often not checked by staff between Oct. 1 and Oct. 11. Inspectors found 26 incidents of missing checks ranging from 30 minutes to six hours. Some of the forms were also incomplete. For women on suicide watch, there were two missing sight checks found, leaving gaps of between 30 minutes to more than two hours.
In an email to NonDoc sent Wednesday morning, Williams said he and the rest of the leadership and staff at the jail remain committed to doing everything possible to maintain the safety and security of the facility despite staffing challenges.
Missed sight checks can be the result of a variety of factors.
“A missed sight check can be attributed to many things,” Williams said. “In some cases, staff complete the check but do not properly log the action. In other cases, staff members will be required to respond to significant incidents which take them away from their initial duties; in those cases, the reason for the missed check will be noted.”
Currently, the jail has about 300 employees, though efforts to recruit more have been ongoing since the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Authority took over the jail two years ago. Williams said the volume of necessary sight checks makes them difficult to complete.
“We have 28 pods where sight checks will be conducted at a minimum once an hour,” he said. “That is 672 sight checks a day. In any given month we will do approximately 20,000 sight checks. Despite this high volume of work, we stress the absolute importance of visual sight checks and proper documentation with staff each day. As a reminder, our staff performs many tasks during a work shift, including serving food, medication distribution, bedding and clothing changeout, detainee cell transfers, trash collection and medical calls. If an issue arises during a shift, such as a medical emergency, or an altercation between detainees, it can delay a detention officer from performing all duties in a timely manner.”
Williams: Things have improved
Williams’ tenure has been turbulent. Most recently, the jail trust considered his employment status during a tense Nov. 7 meeting, ultimately deciding to retain him after trust member Derrick Scobey’s motion to terminate his employment and conduct a national search for his replacement did not receive a second.
“The best time to take action is the time that falls between yesterday and tomorrow. That’s today,” Scobey said in the Nov. 7 meeting. “This CEO and jail administrator, Greg Williams, he is a kind person. I know he doesn’t think it, but I like him personally. But Greg Williams needs to be terminated.”
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater called for a grand jury investigation into the jail’s administration and the jail trust, which remains ongoing. In an August interview with NonDoc, Prater took aim at the jail trust for most of the jail’s problems.
“I believe it’s a culture issue and not just the facility,” Prater said. “They are chronically understaffed, and I believe the trust has been dishonest about their staffing levels. I think that’s led to the increased number of inmates who are dying.”
In an unannounced inspection last year, Health Department officials found clogged showers, holes in cell walls, missing ceiling tiles and damaged lights in the facility.
Many of those items were still issues in the most recent inspection. In one section of the report, exposed electrical components were found that had been tampered with by detainees in several pods. It also found missing ceiling tiles and lighting that was below acceptable levels of brightness in several areas of the jail.
Williams said some of those items have been repaired since the most recent visit by inspectors. He said after the Oklahoma State Department of Health visited last year, the facility has reduced its repeat deficiencies.
“The Health Department’s initial visit in 2021 listed 90 deficiencies,” Williams said. “Since then, we have cut our deficiencies by more than half, and we continue to show improvement in nearly all areas of operations.”