The estate of Amber Hilberling filed a lawsuit this summer alleging that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections did not do enough to prevent the woman’s death in prison.
The lawsuit was filed in Oklahoma County District Court by Rhonda Whitlock, a special administrator for Hilberling’s estate, on July 20. It accuses the DOC of exposing the inmate at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud to “individual and cumulative conditions of confinement that substantially increased the risk of harm to her.”
Hilberling, 25, was serving a 25-year sentence for pushing her husband, Joshua Hilberling, causing him to fall to his death through a window of their apartment on the 25th floor of the University Club Tower in Tulsa in 2011.
She reportedly was found hanging from a bunk bed in her cell by another inmate on Oct. 24, 2016. A medical examiner’s report says she died from asphyxia due to hanging and that she had methamphetamine in her blood at the time of her death.
Hilberling’s parents previously have said she was suicidal and accused the prison of mistreating their daughter, which at the time was denied by DOC officials.
The new lawsuit alleges that corrections officers never saw Hilberling’s body in a “suspended or hanging state.”
“The determination of suicide was made entirely from the statements of other inmates who allegedly discovered Hilberling’s body and cut her down before any ODOC official arrived on scene,” the suit says.
The suit lists several conditions of confinement spanning many years that it alleges were either known to DOC employees or were “so obvious that no reasonable prison official would deny their existence.”
The conditions include inoperable video surveillance equipment preventing supervision of Hilberling’s housing unit and cell on the day of her death and inadequate security checks that allowed inmates to obscure activities in their cells by covering the windows. According to another, inadequate count procedures were used that afternoon, permitting a count to conclude without locating Hilberling.
The lawsuit also states that inadequate segregation procedures permitted a “predator inmate” to extort or manipulate Hilberling the day she died by summoning her to a housing unit to which she wasn’t assigned.
Additionally, the suit claims there was inadequate supervision and medical care after Hilberling reportedly became suicidal in early October 2016. Inadequate supervision also is alleged to have allowed the inmate to be manipulated, coerced and sexually exploited throughout her detention at Mabel Bassett.
“Despite knowledge of these conditions, and the risk of subjecting Hilberling to the corresponding harm from those conditions, ODOC failed to take any reasonable steps to prevent or address the conditions, which directly and proximately caused the death of Amber Hilberling,” the suit states.
Hilberling’s estate asks the court to grant judgment against the defendant in an amount exceeding $75,000.
A DOC spokesman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.