OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A civil rights lawsuit on behalf of a mother whose 31-year-old son died on Jan. 31, 2023, at the Lawton Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility was filed in federal court in Oklahoma City on Monday.
Lawton Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility is a private prison operated by The GEO Group, Inc., a Florida based for-profit company.
According to statements provided on behalf of the plaintiff’s attorneys, GEO, a publicly traded company, operates the Lawton prison under a contract with Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections.
According to the attorneys, GEO is accused of “enabling a custom, pattern and practice of callously indifferent medical and mental health care to people in its custody, and a reluctance to transport patients offsite for emergency medical care, all in an effort to preserve profits.”
“Justin died alone, in a puddle of his own urine and bile on a cold cement floor while GEO’s medical and correctional staff did nothing to help him,” said Paul DeMuro, of Frederic Dorwart, Lawyers PLLC in a statement Monday to the station.
The lawsuit was filed against the following individuals: The GEO Group; Dr. Michael Boger, in his individual capacity; Kristine Kusner, R.N., in her individual capacity; Kalisha Blanchard, in her individual capacity; Kenneth Smith, in his individual capacity; Dr. Michael Murphy; and Express Mobile Diagnostic Services, LLC.
According to the lawsuit, Justin Barrientos died while in a suicide watch cell after having swallowed a plastic “spork,” which perforated his abdominal cavity, caused acute peritonitis, and a number of tangible symptoms:
“His agonizing descent into death over a course of several hours was displayed on the video camera inside his cell. By the time GEO’s staff finally checked on him, Justin had been dead, lying face down for at least 90 minutes, his body cold and stiff.”
DeMuro said X-rays clearly showed the life-threatening condition.
“[It was a ] life threatening condition that was so obvious that the technician noticed the X-ray and immediately said, ‘that’s a huge problem. He needs emergency medical care’,” he said.
But prison staff never sent him to the hospital.
“The records we’ve reviewed, they didn’t even they didn’t even take his vital signs…they didn’t even do a physical exam,” DeMuro said.
The lawsuit claims that rather than immediately transferring Mr. Barrientos to an outside hospital for life-saving care, correctional and medical staff failed to provide any treatment to Mr. Barrientos.
After Mr. Barrientos died, the suit claims GEO staff allegedly falsified prison records to make it appear that staff Mr. Barrientos while he was on suicide watch, as which is required by prison policy.
“Instead of treating the obvious emergency needs of this young man who was in clear distress and in a life threatening condition, they essentially threw him in a cell, let him die,” said DeMuro in an interview on Tuesday with KFOR.
The attorney said the video footage is graphic but emphasized a timeline with the man’s final, agonizing moments: at 9:14 p.m. that evening footage shows Barrientos moving his leg for the last time; by 10:55 p.m., staff found him face down in a puddle of his own bile; by 11:17 p.m. he was pronounced dead.
“The family is really wanting people to understand that, that this did not need to happen. It shouldn’t have happened. They don’t want it to happen again,” DeMuro said.