OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR)- A former Oklahoma County Detention Center inmate who claims she was severely burned in the five days she was incarcerated has now filed a federal lawsuit.

“It was inhumane and unsanitary. Very unclean. It was almost a scene of torture,” Chandra Graham told News 4 in November 2022.

Graham was booked into the Oklahoma County Detention Center (OCDC) on March 24, 2021.

Chandra Graham. Oklahoma County Detention Center.

A newly filed lawsuit said because Graham revealed she had suicidal thoughts, she was stripped of her clothing.

“As part of the Jail’s Suicide Watch procedures, Ms. Graham’s clothes were removed before she was locked in her cell. However, the Jail did not provide any other clothes. Ms. Graham was thus forced to remain naked throughout her incarceration in the SP2 wing. The Jail officers proceeded to place Ms. Graham in a cell with another inmate who was also naked,” the lawsuit reads.

Records also show there was a mixture of feces, urine, and other liquids present in many of the SP2 cells due to recent flooding that caused the sewage system to back up and spread throughout the floors.

The lawsuit notes there was an “unknown chemical substance” mixed into that on the cell floor where Graham was staying.

Despite placing Graham and others in such conditions, “the Jail staff did not then clean the cells and remove the inhuman and dangerous liquid.”

Instead, Jail staff allegedly shut off all the water and plumbing to the SP2 wing in an attempt to stop the flooding.

As such, all the cells in the SP2 wing were classified as “dry cells” and had no direct water access.

The lawsuit claims Jail staff attempted to use saran wrap to stop the toilets from continuously overflowing with excrement, but that failed.

Inmates were then forced to use the bathroom on the floor of their cells, according to documents.

Graham told KFOR some of that liquid was splashed on to her face which caused a burning sensation.

Because of the lack of water in her cell, she said she asked Jail staff for a cup of water to wash her face, but she was denied.

Her lawsuit indicates Graham continued her requests for over an hour. Growing exhausted, Graham fell asleep for about an hour. When she awoke, her eyes had “nearly swollen shut.”

Top: Chandra Graham before being incarcerated at OCDC. Bottom: Chandra Graham after being incarcerated at OCDC. Photo courtesy: Chandra Graham.

The lawsuit reveals there were three to five jail guards who overheard her cries for help.

“I immediately ran to the cell door and I alerted one of the guards and asked them if they could give me a cup of water because there was a dispenser that they had outside of the cell. They told me no over and over again. Some of them walked by and looked like [they] literally snickered at me and told me no,” said Graham.

When News 4 originally aired Graham’s story in November, OCDC’s Communications Director, Mark Opgrande was asked to comment.

“Each cell is equipped with a sink with hot and cold water faucets, therefore there were no barriers which would have prevented Ms. Graham from washing her face,” he said.

Because the water was shut off to her cell, Graham said she didn’t have access to clean water.

OCDC medical records show Graham was treated several times with Benadryl and cream.

She was first seen by medical staff on March 27 for a “rash and swelling to her face.”

Then again on March 28 for complaints of falling off the top bunk and hitting her head. 

“No bumps, bruising or lacerations were noticed on back or head. She was provided cream to continue to treat her face,” stated Opgrande. “Also on March 28, 2021, she was seen by medical with complaints of having had a stroke. Vital signs and neuro check were negative for any deficit. She presented with facial edema and was again offered Benadryl and cortisone cream. Her chart indicates she responded with a vulgarity.”

The lawsuit said the cream Graham was given failed to effectively treat her symptoms.

“We strive, along with our healthcare vendor, to provide the best care possible to detainees,” Opgrande wrote in a statement to News 4 in November.

Opgrande then pointed back to her medical records stating she admitted to medical staff she rubbed feces and urine into her face.

Graham told KFOR she never said that nor did she do that.

Records show she was relocated to the Behavioral Health Unit on March 27.

Once there, she made “continuous sick calls” in order to receive some sort of medical treatment for her worsening symptoms.

To make such sick calls in the Behavioral Health Unit, an inmate is required to press the “medical button” thereby officially notifying the Jail that medical attention is needed.

“In total, Ms. Graham pressed the medical button approximately 50 times without any response by the Jail,” the lawsuit reads.

Graham was transferred out of Oklahoma County into Tillman County on March 29 because there was a hold on her for a separate charge.

Chandra Graham. Tillman County Jail.

News 4 spoke with a Tillman County Jail representative in November who didn’t want to go on camera, but did provide us with information.

The representative said the jail receives inmate transfers all the time, but in all of his time working with the jail, he’s never seen an inmate arrive like this.

Once he saw her condition, he said he told his co-workers “they never should have picked her up.”

He also stated he knew Graham needed medical attention, so within an hour of being booked into the Tillman County Jail, Graham was released.

Graham showed up to Comanche County Memorial Hospital about an hour later.

News 4 also obtained Graham’s medical records from Comanche County Memorial through Graham.

Medical personnel noted Graham had “extensive burns across her face.”

Graham had a number of tests done, including a CT scan that revealed soft tissue swelling as well.

The hospital referred her to Integris Baptist Burn Center in OKC where she spent 10 days. She was admitted into the Integris Baptist Burn Center March 30, 2021.

According to Integris Baptist medical records, Graham is noted to have been seen April 2 for a chemical burn, a chemical burn of face, facial rash, and acute bacterial conjunctivitis of both eyes.

“It’s [an] overwhelming change. It’s very painful. I couldn’t even bear looking at myself and like, accepting and thinking to myself, like I don’t know how long this is going to last,” said Graham.

Her lawsuit reveals Graham was required to undergo surgery to drain a substantial abscess of her right eyelid.

Without the treatment, Graham could have faced worse conditions like “fully losing her eyesight or death from sepsis.”

Graham told KFOR she suffered from second and third-degree burns across her face and she feels lucky to have received the timely treatment she did.

On the other hand, Opgrande said, “Her medical records do not support a claim of third-degree burns occurring to her while in the facility. Ms. Graham was in the facility for five days and was provided access to multiple medical visits as well as mental health visits.”

“The simple fact is she had no burns and no injuries to her face before she was arrested. And immediately when she’s released from the Oklahoma County jail, her face is completely disfigured,” said one of Graham’s attorneys, Sebastian Van Coevorden.

Van Coevorden is an Associate with Ellwanger Henderson in Dallas, Texas.

He told KFOR Tuesday morning the next step is serving those listed on the lawsuit.

“It involves the Sheriff and the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Trustees, as well as one detention officer who we identify as being primarily responsible for the denial of medical care that occurred at that time,” stated Van Coevorden. “The ball’s in the court of the defendants. Most likely they’ll file what’s called a motion to dismiss and they’ll say that they don’t deserve to be held accountable for these actions.”

Van Coevorden added the purpose of this lawsuit is to serve justice and that comes in the form of accountability.

Graham is relieved to finally get the ball rolling on a lawsuit, according to Van Coevorden.

Unfortunately, he said Graham’s case is “particularly intolerable,” but similar situations happen all over the nation.

“The point of these lawsuits from the point of Ms. Graham’s lawsuit is really to expose what is going on and expose what she was exposed to,” said Van Coevorden.

Sean Cummings with The People’s Council for Justice Reform said this case could be the one to shut the jail down.

Cummings first watched Graham’s story in November.

He mentioned News 4’s story to the Jail Trust during their December meeting.

“I think this may be the most tragic story that’s come out of the Oklahoma County jail. And it covers a multitude of subjects. For one, she was never convicted of a crime. She goes in here, we all know about the reports on the jail. We all know about the grand jury that’s done another report. Everything is factually set up for her to fail,” said Cummings. “I was hoping for some empathy, but literally what I find most of all with everybody that’s on the jail trust is they’re just tired of listening to people tell them problems. Well, if you’re tired of that, you shouldn’t be in management, should you? Because your job is to solve problems. They eventually fixed the toilet flushing issue, but nobody has addressed the fact of what the chemicals were on the ground.”

Opgrande said toxic chemicals are not allowed in the jail.

Cummings went on to say Jail staff essentially tormented her by not responding to Graham’s medical cries for help.

He said for this type of case to never happen again, the Jail Trust needs to dissolve itself.

“The first step is to take this seriously,” he added. “This may be the most definitive lawsuit I’ve ever heard come out of here.”

Cummings encourages anyone who may have been mistreated at the OCDC to phone an attorney.

“If that attorney doesn’t take your case, contact another one. You have a right to sue. Your rights were violated,” said Cummings.

News 4 reached out to Opgrande for an updated statement, but he declined due to pending litigation.

Van Coevorden told KFOR all of Graham’s charges have since been dropped.

He adds she was never convicted of a crime and was a “pre-trial detainee.”

Two months prior to Graham’s incarceration, OCDC failed an Oklahoma State Department of Health inspection. The jail was cited for uncleanliness, bed bug infestations, and more.

Another OSDH inspection occurred in June 2021 to which that was also failed for similar reasons.

In October 2021, OSDH completed another inspection of the jail.

The same deficiencies were again listed through this report. It was documented there was an “unknown substance splattered on the walls” of a woman’s holding cell.

Since then, the OSDH has completed more inspections in which uncleanliness, black mold, and bed bugs is riddled throughout.

This is a developing story.