The death of a 46-year-old woman with disabilities at the municipal jail is raising questions about the city’s preparation to handle a lockup.
Lawanda Ward, who was diagnosed as a paraplegic and had lupus, was found unresponsive in her cell on Jan. 6.
Tulsa World reporter Corey Jones found that Ward claimed feeling unwell at booking, and EMSA cleared her for incarceration. She was there for four days with deteriorating health.
Much of what happened remains unknown, even to her family.
The municipal jail opened in 2018 after years of public fighting with the county over the cost of holding municipal prisoners arrested exclusively on misdemeanor city ordinance violations.
Jail health care can be a significant and unpredictable expense. The city opted against a 24/7 nursing staff through its private security contractor operating the jail. It would have cost nearly $500,000.
Instead, the city chose to rely on EMSA and the Tulsa Fire Department for medical needs.
The decision meets the state requirements for adequate care. However, the public — and, when it comes down to it, juries — sometimes have a higher standard of care. The county realized this the hard way after expensive lawsuits into deaths occurring at its facility.
We are also bothered by the lack of information about what happened with Ward. To date, the city hasn’t released an incident report despite multiple requests under the Open Records Act and a requirement to provide one to the state health department.
The city is refusing to release video even though the law specifically lists recordings attached to officers and equipment as open. It took more than 24 hours to verify publicly that a death had occurred.
We offer our sympathy to Ward’s family and join in their quest to get answers and improve any procedures and services to prevent future deaths.