Judge denies pretrial release of 2011 Tulsa Jail death video
BY DAVID HARPER World Staff Writer
Saturday, January 19, 2013
1/19/13 at 8:24 AM
Allowing the public release of a video that reportedly shows the final hours of a Tulsa Jail inmate's life would "open the door to a trial in the media" in a pending civil lawsuit that centers around the man's death, a federal judge ruled Friday.
U.S. Magistrate Paul Cleary denied a motion filed by attorneys for the estate of Elliott Earl Williams, who died in the jail in 2011.
The motion sought to modify a protective order to allow the disclosure of certain documents, including the video and related investigative reports about the jail's medical unit.
Plaintiffs' attorney Louis Bullock said during a Jan. 8 hearing that members of the public should be able to see for themselves an October 2011 Tulsa Jail video that he says shows the "horrific treatment" Williams experienced in his final hours of life.
Co-counsel Daniel Smolen told the Tulsa World earlier this month that he has never seen "a more horrific, egregious violation of a human being's civil rights in the United States as I have in what is displayed in the Elliott Williams video."
According to the motion seeking release of the video and related documents, Williams, who had exhibited signs of mental illness, ran into a steel door head-first after being placed in a booking cell upon arrival at the jail Oct. 22.
When detention officers and medical personnel refused to treat him, claiming he was faking paralysis, he was left on the floor of the booking cell for 10 hours, the motion states.
He was then left naked and unable to move on a steel bunk in the medical unit for three days before being moved to a cell that had video monitoring, according to the motion. The attorneys say he was then left unable to eat or drink and with vomit and saliva on his face until he died Oct. 27.
Cleary wrote on Friday that "the court has already witnessed how unilateral disclosure of protected documents could disrupt the orderly pre-trial and trial process of this case."
The lawsuit was filed Nov. 17, 2011, just a few weeks after Williams, 37, was found dead in his cell.
The complaint alleges that jail and medical personnel "were clearly on notice of Mr. Williams's acute suicidal tendencies and serious mental health issues."
Attorney Guy Fortney - who represents Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, one of the defendants - said during the Jan. 8 hearing that the circumstances surrounding Williams' death are complicated.
He argued that the plaintiffs' lawyers were trying to get the "inflammatory" video to the media in a way that takes it out of the proper context and outside the purposes of the lawsuit.
The parties are preparing for a jury trial, which is set to begin June 17 before U.S. District Judge John Dowdell.
Cleary wrote Friday that he is unwilling "to find that the public has an 'unfettered' right to pretrial discovery materials in any case deemed to be of public interest."
The magistrate also wrote that the public has not been denied access to the proceedings in the case. He noted that open hearings have been held and that "the public has been informed of the factual and legal issues" in the lawsuit.
"The correct procedure" is for nonparties to intervene in a lawsuit if they seek access to protected information and "explain what they seek and why," he said.
Bullock said Friday evening that plaintiffs' attorneys are analyzing the opinion and will decide whether to appeal.
Original Print Headline: Judge denies release of jail death video
David Harper 918-581-8359
Elliott Earl Williams: A lawsuit filed after his October 2011 death in the Tulsa Jail claims that he had been left unable to eat or drink and with vomit and saliva on his face until he died. A judge said the pretrial release of a video showing the conditions would "open the door to a trial in the media."