He knew his neck was broken. Elliott Williams suffered in his Tulsa County Jail cell for five days before succumbing, even though he told the staff about his injury. Instead of helping him, they ignored or mistreated the inmate.
On that fifth day back in October 2011, he died. Eight years later, Tulsa County officials agreed to pay his estate $10 million, the culmination of his parents’ civil rights lawsuit.
Arrested During Mental Breakdown
Williams, 37, was an Army veteran. He was arrested in a hotel lobby in Owasso, a Tulsa suburb, for causing obstruction. According to the police report, Williams threatened suicide and was in the throes of a mental breakdown. Williams’ lawyer later said his client was suffering a mental breakdown due to issues in his personal life. He was afraid his wife was going to leave him.
He was later placed in a cell at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center. An Owasso police officer threw Williams onto the floor, where he hit his head and neck. Another inmate later said Williams bashed his head into a steel door, resulting in the broken neck.
Although Williams immediately informed the staff of the neck injury, they ignored him. For the next 10.5 hours, he lay there in the holding cell, eventually defecating on himself.
The Final 51 Hours
Video surveillance cameras documented the final 51 hours of Williams’s life. They show a man who could not reach the food or water placed on the floor of his jail cell by guards. While virtually naked and lacking movement, the video reveals that Williams was dragged into his cell on a blanket by guards. Paramedics then entered the cell, trying and failing to revive him.
Before those 51 hours, Williams had been placed in a medical unit, where he stayed for three days. During that time, a nurse, who thought he was faking, reformed his clothes with the help of an officer and put him in the shower. While in the shower, he did not move for 90 minutes. He was dumped onto the floor of the shower, again hitting his head.
He was transferred to the cell with the video monitor after jail workers thought he was lying about his broken neck. The reasoning was that if his neck wasn’t broken, the video would show that. Two jail employees wrote that Williams was able to reach to feed himself, but the video proves that was untrue.
In 2014, the medical examiner confirmed that Williams died from a combination of vetrebro-spinal injuries and dehydration and starvation. One of the defendants, Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc., the company providing medical services to the jail, settled with the Williams’ estate before the case went to trial.
Other Deaths, No Video
As the attorney for Williams’ estate points out, dozens of people came into contact with Williams throughout his five-day ordeal, but instead of coming to his aid, they mocked and laughed at him. He termed it “a total attitude of indifference.”
During a 2017 trial, after which the county appealed the jury award, the lawyer noted that other preventable deaths had occurred in the jail. Still, Williams was the only one in which there was video evidence.
If you or a loved one suffered death or catastrophic injuries at the hands of the police, prison guards or jail staff, you may be entitled to damages. Visit our inmate abuse information page for more details. Ready to see if you have a case? CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.