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Crime-and-courts
Tulsa County, estate settle lawsuit for $10 million, ending years of litigation over Elliott Williams' death in the Tulsa County jail

Tulsa County officials have agreed to drop a challenge to a multimillion-dollar federal civil rights jury verdict linked to the 2011 death of a jail detainee.

The Tulsa County Commission agreed Tuesday to pay the family of Elliott Earl Williams $10 million, plus any interest that accrues until the total amount is paid, said Dan Smolen, attorney for Williams’ estate.

The agreement will end nearly eight years of litigation that included a jury’s determination in 2017 that Tulsa County and former Sheriff Stanley Glanz were liable for Williams’ death in the county jail.

“After nearly eight years of hard-fought litigation, the case is now resolved once and for all,” said Smolen, who called the settlement the largest ever in an Oklahoma civil rights death case.

“The estate agreed to this settlement, in part, to avoid additional delays, arguments and possible appeals concerning the issue of ‘setoff,’” Smolen said in a statement. “It is the estate’s hope that the settlement will provide deterrence for future civil rights violations.”

Guy Fortney, a private attorney representing the county in the lawsuit, declined to discuss the settlement, other than to say Tulsa County officials are pleased that the case is now settled.

A jury in Tulsa federal court found that Williams’ civil rights were violated by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office and Glanz while Williams was detained at the jail.

The jury awarded Williams’ estate $10 million in compensatory damages from Tulsa County and $250,000 in punitive damages from Glanz, who by then was out of office. Payment of the damage awards had been on hold while the county pursued its appeal.

The agreement Tuesday comes after an appellate court in August turned away most of the county’s legal objections, including the request for a new trial. However, the appellate court did agree that the trial judge should have considered whether to factor in an out-of-court settlement payout that the jail medical provider paid the Williams estate when determining how much of the $10.25 million damage award should ultimately be paid.

Evidence in the trial showed that Williams begged for water as he spent his last days lying in his own waste on the floor of a jail cell, where he ultimately died after the jail failed to provide him with necessary medical care or transfer to an outside facility.

The 37-year-old Williams was mentally ill when he was jailed on a misdemeanor charge of obstructing an Owasso police officer, according to court records.

Williams hit his head while alone in a holding cell, injuring his neck, according to court records.

His health deteriorated over the course of his six days in the jail until jail personnel discovered him unresponsive in a medical unit cell about 11:30 a.m. Oct. 27, 2011.

A medical expert for Williams’ estate said jail staff’s failure to stabilize Williams’ neck caused a hematoma that shut down his spinal cord, which in turn caused his respiratory muscles to stop working.

Williams’ death likely could have been avoided had jail staff stabilized his neck and referred him to an appropriate medical facility, according to his estate’s medical expert.

As part of the settlement, the Williams estate has agreed to drop a punitive damage claim against Glanz, meaning he won’t be on the hook for the $250,000, Smolen said.

The settlement also calls for the county not to pay Williams’ estate attorney fees that accrued while the case was pending.

Attorneys for Williams’ estate claimed at one time that they were entitled to receive $1.5 million in legal fees since they prevailed in the lawsuit.

Smolen said Williams’ story should “never be forgotten.”

“The suffering that Mr. Williams endured, and the inhumane treatment he encountered at the Tulsa County jail, simply cannot be tolerated in a civilized society,” Smolen said.

“The comprehensive opinion and order entered earlier this year by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is a landmark, and will be cited in civil rights cases for years to come. This will be Elliott’s legacy.”

Tulsa County officials could not be reached regarding the impact of the settlement on property taxes, which can be affected by large court judgments.

In the past, the Tulsa County Employees Retirement System has assumed judgments on behalf of the county, officials said.

Under such a scenario, the county retirement plan would pay the entire judgment to the plaintiff with the understanding that the county would reimburse the plan with money from its sinking fund over a three-year period, plus interest.

Otherwise, the county would have three years to pay the settlement, Smolen said.



Washington
Risks for all sides as Trump impeachment hearings swing open

WASHINGTON — The closed doors of the Trump impeachment investigation are swinging wide open.

When the gavel strikes at the start of the House hearing Wednesday morning, America and the rest of the world will have the chance to see and hear for themselves for the first time about President Donald Trump’s actions toward Ukraine and consider whether they are, in fact, impeachable offenses.

It’s a remarkable moment, even for a White House full of them.

All on TV, committee leaders will set the stage, then comes the main feature: Two seasoned diplomats, William Taylor, the graying former infantry officer now charge d’affaires in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary in Washington, telling the striking, if sometimes complicated story of a president allegedly using foreign policy for personal and political gain ahead of the 2020 election.

So far, the narrative is splitting Americans, mostly along the same lines as Trump’s unusual presidency. The Constitution sets a dramatic, but vague, bar for impeachment, and there’s no consensus yet that Trump’s actions at the heart of the inquiry meet the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Whether Wednesday’s proceedings begin to end a presidency or help secure Trump’s position, it’s certain that his chaotic term has finally arrived at a place he cannot control and a force, the constitutional system of checks and balances, that he cannot ignore.

The country has been here just three times before, and never against the backdrop of social media and real-time commentary, including from the president himself.

“These hearings will address subjects of profound consequence for the Nation and the functioning of our government under the Constitution,” said Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee leading the inquiry, in a memo to lawmakers.

Schiff called it a “solemn undertaking,” and counseled colleagues to “approach these proceedings with the seriousness of purpose and love of country that they demand.”

“Total impeachment scam,” tweeted the president, as he does virtually every day.

Impeachments are rare, historians say, because they amount to nothing short of the nullification of an election. Starting down this road poses risks for both Democrats and Republicans as proceedings push into the 2020 campaign.

Unlike the Watergate hearings and Richard Nixon, there is not yet a “cancer on the presidency” moment galvanizing public opinion. Nor is there the national shrug, as happened when Bill Clinton’s impeachment ultimately didn’t result in his removal from office. It’s perhaps most like the partisanship-infused impeachment of Andrew Johnson after the Civil War.

Trump calls the whole thing a “witch hunt,” a retort that echoes Nixon’s own defense. Republicans say Democrats have been trying to get rid of this president since he first took office, starting with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference to help Trump in the 2016 election.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was initially reluctant to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. As Democrats took control of the House in January, Pelosi said impeachment would be “too divisive” for the country. Trump, she said, was simply “not worth it.”

After Mueller’s appearance on Capitol Hill in July for the end of the Russia probe, the door to impeachment proceedings seemed closed.

But the next day Trump got on the phone.

For the past month, witness after witness has testified under oath about his July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and the alarms it set off in U.S. diplomatic and national security circles.

In a secure room in the Capitol basement, current and former officials have been telling lawmakers what they know. They’ve said an earlier Trump call in April congratulating Zelenskiy on his election victory seemed fine. The former U.S. reality TV host and the young Ukrainian comedian hit it off.

But in the July call, things turned.

An anonymous whistleblower first alerted officials to the phone call. “I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 election,” the person wrote in August to the House and Senate Intelligence committees. Democrats fought for the letter to be released to them as required.

“I am deeply concerned,” the whistleblower wrote.

Trump insisted the call was “perfect.” The White House released a rough transcript. Pelosi, given the nod from her most centrist freshman lawmakers, opened the inquiry.

“The president has his opportunity to prove his innocence,” she told Noticias Telemundo on Tuesday.

Defying White House orders not to appear, witnesses have testified that Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was withholding U.S. military aid to the budding democracy until the new Ukraine government conducted investigations Trump wanted into Democrats in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter.

It was all part of what Taylor, the long-serving top diplomat in Ukraine, called the “irregular” foreign policy being led by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, outside of traditional channels.

Taylor said it was “crazy” that the Trump administration was withholding U.S. military assistance to the East European ally over the political investigations, with Russian forces on Ukraine’s border on watch for a moment of weakness.

Kent, the bowtie-wearing State Department official, told investigators there were three things Trump wanted of Ukraine: “Investigations, Biden, Clinton.”

On Friday, the public is scheduled to hear from Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who told investigators she was warned to “watch my back” as Trump undercut and then recalled her.

“What this affords is the opportunity for the cream of our diplomatic corps to tell the American people a clear and consistent story of what the president did,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., a member of the Intelligence panel.

“It takes a lot of courage to do what they are doing,” he said, “and they are probably just going to be abused for it.”

Republicans, led on the panel by Rep. Devin Nunes, a longtime Trump ally from California, will argue that none of those witnesses has first-hand knowledge of the president’s actions. They will say Ukraine never felt pressured and the aid money eventually flowed, in September.

Yet Republicans are struggling to form a unified defense of Trump. Instead they often fall back on criticism of the process.

Some Republicans align with Trump’s view, which is outside of mainstream intelligence findings, that Ukraine was involved in 2016 U.S. election interference. They want to hear from Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine, Burisma, while his father was the vice president. And they are trying to bring forward the still-anonymous whistleblower, whose identity Democrats have vowed to protect.

The framers of the Constitution provided few details about how the impeachment proceedings should be run, leaving much for Congress to decide. Democrats say the White House’s refusal to provide witnesses or produce documents is obstruction and itself impeachable.

Hearings are expected to continue and will shift, likely by Thanksgiving, to the Judiciary Committee to consider actual articles of impeachment.

The House, which is controlled by Democrats, is expected to vote by Christmas.

That would launch a trial in the Senate, where Republicans have the majority, in the new year.


News
Mannford officer charged with second-degree murder after police chief's death in Florida hotel

Prosecutors in Escambia County, Florida, filed a second-degree murder charge against a Mannford police officer accused of killing his police chief in a hotel room.

Michael Nealey is accused of killing Mannford Police Chief Lucky Miller in a room at the Hilton Hotel in Pensacola Beach, Florida. Nealey made a video appearance in Escambia County District Court on Tuesday afternoon and has an arraignment hearing scheduled for Dec. 5.

Nealey remains in the Escambia County jail on $1.5 million bond, according to jail records.

Officers responded to the beachfront hotel about 7:50 p.m. Sunday to what was initially reported as an unknown problem, according to an arrest report. The first arriving sheriff’s deputy reportedly found paramedics treating Nealey before transporting him to a Pensacola hospital.

Another deputy reportedly found Miller lying unresponsive on the floor with Nealey lying a short distance away and mumbling incoherently. A hotel maintenance worker came to the room after a noise complaint and after entering for a welfare check, saw Nealey sitting on top of Miller on the floor, according to an arrest report.

Two other guests at the hotel reportedly heard noises from the room, including what one described as a “roaring” noise and a man yelling “stop it, Mike” several times. Another guest heard laughing and yelling from the officers’ rooms for several hours before asking for a room change at the front desk, according to the report.

Deputies observed Miller’s face had been beaten and his right eye swollen, but found no other apparent injuries, according to an arrest report. Nealey’s nose and lip were injured when he hit the floor after the maintenance man reportedly pulled him off of Miller. Nealey’s right hand was also reportedly swollen and red.

A spokeswoman for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office said previously that alcohol was believed to be involved in the incident.

Miller and Nealey were reportedly in Florida for a law enforcement conference.

A GoFundMe account has been launched in Miller’s name to assist his family with funeral expenses. The campaign has raised $4,725 as of Tuesday.


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Government-and-politics
City election: All propositions pass in $639 million Improve Our Tulsa renewal package

The Tulsans who turned out to vote Tuesday gave overwhelming support to the $639 million Improve Our Tulsa renewal package, with two of the three propositions approved by more than 80%. The third had nearly 80% approval.

Mayor G.T. Bynum said the results show what citizens can do when they put politics aside and work together for the benefit of their community.

“I think in an era where there is such a toxic level of public discourse at other levels of government right now … it is really important for the citizens of Tulsa to see that at this level, at least, we can still come together and put one another ahead of those things that seem to divide government on so many other levels,” Bynum said.

The Improve Our Tulsa renewal will allocate $427 million for streets and transportation projects, $193 million for capital projects and $19 million for the city’s Rainy Day Fund.

The streets and transportation proposition was approved by 85.17% of voters, according to unofficial preliminary numbers from the Tulsa County Election Board.

The capital improvements proposition garnered 81.74% of the vote, with the proposal to create a permanent 0.05% sales tax for the Rainy Day Fund earning approval by 79.44% of voters.

Bynum said the strong support was a testament to the long, inclusive process the city undertook to vet projects and gather public input.

“I think we got a better end result because of that process, and the voters appear to have agreed,” the mayor said.

City Council Chairman Phil Lakin said he was very happy with the results, and he thanked the public for its support.

“All I can think is that people believe in Tulsa the same way that I and the council and the mayor believe in Tulsa,” Lakin said. “And it seems like we are all pulling the same way. I love it. I love it.”

Voter turnout was low Tuesday, with approximately 29,000 — or 14.4% — of the city’s 201,245 registered voters casting ballots.

About two-thirds of the funding for the package is to come from bond sales, financed with property taxes, and the other third from sales tax. The 6½-year program will begin early next year.

The Improve Our Tulsa renewal is an extension of the $918.7 million Improve Our Tulsa package that voters approved in 2013.

Like its namesake, a majority of the package will go to fund street repairs and rehabilitation.

The renewal package also includes $50 million for capital equipment such as fire trucks, police cars and other heavy equipment. Additionally, millions of dollars have been allocated for the Tulsa Zoo, Gilcrease Museum, the Greenwood Cultural Center, and the Animal Welfare Shelter.

The city’s parks system will receive $30 million, and each City Council district will receive $1 million.

The funds to individual districts must go toward projects that serve a public purpose and meet criteria set out by the city. Each project would be subject to approval by the council.


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