A former Tulsa Jail medical director was investigated on an allegation that he injected a saltwater placebo into an inmate he believed to be faking an illness or injury, jurors in the Elliott Williams trial heard Wednesday.
Former Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Michelle Robinette testified for a third consecutive day in the federal civil rights trial concerning Williams’ death at the jail in 2011. Dan Smolen, an attorney for Williams’ estate, finished his initial questioning of Robinette early Tuesday afternoon, but the defense’s cross-examination was delayed until Wednesday.
Former Sheriff Stanley Glanz and Sheriff Vic Regalado — in his official capacity — are defendants in the lawsuit.
Defense attorney Guy Fortney guided Robinette, who served as jail administrator until 2014, through numerous reports and audits that outlined deficiencies found in the medical unit where Williams died from complications of a broken neck. Robinette also read from documents detailing the efforts of the private company that ran the medical unit to correct the issues.
An audit conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement a month before Williams’ death found a “prevailing attitude” of indifference among jail staff. Fortney asked whether Robinette witnessed an attitude of indifference when she visited the medical unit. She said she did not.
Following the cross-examination, Smolen asked Robinette whether she recalled being told that the medical director, Dr. Andy Adusei, had been “stabbing inmates with placebos because he thought they were faking” illness or disability.
Smolen was referencing a memo Robinette received from sheriff’s Maj. John Bowman in August 2012 that expressed concerns about Adusei. The memo states that the jail’s part-time psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Harnish, “disapproves of some of Dr. Adusei’s actions.”
Harnish reported that Adusei had been giving inmates injections in their jugular veins. He noted a specific incident in which he said Adusei injected a patient with a placebo containing saltwater.
Although the memo doesn’t specify why he gave the inmate a saltwater injection, Smolen said the only reason to inject someone with a placebo is if they were believed to be faking.
Additionally, Adusei reportedly ordered an inmate to be released from suicide watch without conferring with Harnish, who was responsible for mental-health patients. Harnish said several nurses had voiced their concerns with him over the medical director’s actions.
Chris Rogers, the medical provider’s health services manager, said Adusei “has done some things that she doesn’t agree with and she’s told him she doesn’t agree with them,” Bowman’s memo states. “Among these are the injections to the jugular.” She said she was confident that Adusei would never purposely do anything to harm a patient and that she believed her superiors were considering replacing him.
The memo also addressed a “personality conflict” between Harnish and Adusei, noting that the two were not speaking to each other.
Robinette testified that she ordered an investigation into Adusei’s actions after receiving the memo. She said Rogers told her it was common practice to give inmates injections into their jugulars but didn’t remember talking about saltwater injections.
Smolen inquired whether there was an attitude of indifference when the jail’s medical director and psychologist weren’t speaking despite their need to work together in providing inmate care. She responded that she reported the issue to the medical provider when it was brought to her attention so that it would be addressed.
Robinette said she had no control over terminating Adusei because he did not work for the Sheriff’s Office, but she said she believed he was later dismissed.
Records show that Adusei was fired in March 2013, about eight months after the memo was drafted. That was not his first termination with the medical provider, however. He had been hired to work at the jail as a staff physician in 2010 but was fired six months later for reportedly drinking on the job.
Adusei was rehired in December 2011 after Dr. Phillip Washburn was fired from his position as medical director.
According to the memo to Robinette, Harnish also took issue with Adusei’s credentials and mentioned that he had been asked to leave the surgical residency program at the University of Oklahoma.
Throughout the trial, plaintiffs have highlighted years of policy violations and complaints that they say point to a system failure within the jail that has contributed to numerous inmate deaths.
A lawsuit filed after Williams died in a medical cell — six days after he was booked into the jail — alleges that staff willfully neglected to treat the inmate as he repeatedly complained of neck injury. Several witnesses have testified that detention officers and medical personnel thought Williams was faking paralysis.