Police attribute the trickle of information on the Tulsa municipal jail’s first death to just that: the city and Police Department haven’t dealt with such an incident before.
As of Thursday evening, police have yet to identify the 46-year-old woman found unresponsive in her cell about 8:30 a.m. Monday. The woman was later pronounced dead in an area hospital. She is the first person to die in the jail since it opened in March 2018.
The Tulsa World first contacted the Mayor’s Office about the incident late Monday afternoon and was referred to Tulsa police. The Police Department did not respond Monday in part because the call was made after hours, but later confirmed the death Tuesday afternoon after a second call.
Michelle Brooks, spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office, said the city was notified of the death late Monday morning. Tulsa Police Lt. Shane Tuell explained Thursday that the department wasn’t ready to release initial information until after a staff meeting on the incident Tuesday afternoon, more than 24 hours after the woman’s death.
“I’m sure it’s, ‘Let’s make sure we’re giving out the right information,’ ” Tuell said. “Is it a HIPAA violation if we give out something? This is the first time we’ve come across this with us running the jail, I’m sure that has a lot to do with it.
“It has nothing to do with, ‘Oh we need to keep this quiet’ or anything like that. I’m sure it’s just that we need to make sure we’re doing this right before we give out any information.”
The woman, who reportedly turned herself in at the jail Jan. 2 on a misdemeanor larceny warrant, was reportedly found unresponsive within minutes of her 8:30 a.m. cell check. Tuell said the woman complained of not feeling well when she turned herself in, but EMSA paramedics checked and cleared her before her booking.
Tuell said the jail, which is staffed by 25 detention officers from G4S Security and managed by the Tulsa Police Department, does not have on-site medical staff.
Tony Sellars, spokesman for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said inspectors were already in Tulsa Jan. 2 at the Tulsa County jail. Inspectors went to the municipal jail upon hearing of the death and are investigating, Sellars said.
In the event of an emergency, the jail relies on EMSA paramedics to treat inmates, Tuell said. He added he believes there is a mechanism in place for inmate medications to be dispensed in the jail, but could not provide further details as of Thursday afternoon.
The Tulsa World has requested the jail incident report from the woman’s death, but had not received it as of Thursday evening. Sellars said a preliminary report from the Health Department investigation, which includes the incident report, would be available in about a week.