OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – In less than a week, three people have died while being held at the Oklahoma County Detention Center, but a mom whose daughter is a current inmate says the jail isn’t telling the truth about how these people died.
Erin Phillips’ daughter has been sitting behind bars since March 23 on charges of larceny and entering with intent to steal copper.
Phillips told KFOR she was on the phone with her daughter early Friday morning.
“All I could hear in the background was the inmates yelling and screaming for help and, ‘Call somebody. We need help.’ And I asked her what was going on, of course, and she asked me to call somebody because a female inmate in the cell next to her had been dead for hours and they could not get anybody to come to help,” explained Phillips.
She said she immediately hung up the phone and redialed the Oklahoma County Detention Center (OCDC).
“They were very shocked and surprised. They were asking me how I knew. ‘How do you know for sure?’ And I told them, my daughter is in there. And they said, ‘Well, she in the cell with her? How does she know? Because we’re not calling her a liar. We just want to know.’ I told them that, you know, that’s something they need to check out. I don’t know. I’m not there, but I don’t see how they could be acting crazy and screaming like that if something wasn’t going on. And so they immediately were like, ‘Oh, my God’ and like, immediately hung up on me,” stated Phillips.
According to the OCDC, 37-year-old Courtenay Doyle was found unresponsive in her cell at 6 a.m. that day.
“The Detention Officer called for medical staff and immediately began life-saving measures. EMSA and Oklahoma City Fire Department personnel arrived and continued life-saving measures. EMSA transported Doyle to the hospital, where she was declared deceased at approximately 7:16 a.m. Friday,” stated OCDC Director of Communications, Mark Opgrande.
“That’s not the truth. It’s very scary to me because it I think that’s crazy,” said Phillips.
News 4 asked the OCDC for further comment based on Phillips’ claims, but they declined.
Instead, Opgrande encouraged Phillips to reach out and jail administrators would be more than willing to talk with her.
Site checks are something the jail has had issues with in the past.
In the most recent State Health Department inspection report, it shows a “repeat deficiency” for failing to complete site checks.
That report indicated 40+ violations found within the OCDC.
A Multi-County Grand Jury report released earlier this year echoes similar issues found at the OCDC.
Friday’s death was the start of a domino effect at the jail.
37-year-old Frank Ramirez died on Saturday and 40-year-old Amber Owens died on Monday.
“At approximately 8:40 p.m. Saturday, April 22, a detention officer, conducting sight checks on a pod, was notified that a detainee was in distress. The detention officer opened the cell door, called for medical staff and immediately began life-saving measures. EMSA and Oklahoma City Fire Department personnel arrived and continued life-saving measures. EMSA transported the detainee to the hospital, where he was declared deceased at approximately 9:43 p.m. Saturday,” stated Opgrande in a ‘Detainee Death Reported’ press release.
Jail officials tell News 4 Owens died at a local hospital after an apparent accident.
“The detainee, Amber Owens, was being monitored at the hospital awaiting transfer to another medical facility. We were informed by the contracted law enforcement officer who was guarding Owens, that she sustained an injury after a fall within the hospital facility. Lifesaving efforts were attempted by hospital staff but were unsuccessful,” read another ‘Detainee Death Reported’ press release sent by Opgrande.
Owens is the latest OCDC death which marks four in April and so far, six in 2023.
Since the OCDC Jail Trust took over operations of the jail, 43 inmates have died, according to Opgrande.
16 of those deaths are from 2022.
Phillips doesn’t believe those numbers are accurate though.
“I do feel like that there’s more than that. Maybe because there’s some people who don’t have family or, you know, or they don’t have anybody to even call for who have passed away in there. And so they I don’t think they count those numbers because I do believe there’s more,” explained Phillips.
Recently, Brandi Garner was named the new OCDC Jail Administrator and CEO.
Garner has made it clear she has many goals to turn the jail around. One of those is ensuring the safety of inmates.
“We had a change in the CEO. That didn’t change the feel in there or the employees in there or the people really and truly controlling the money,” stated Sean Cummings, a member of the People’s Council For Justice Reform.
He believes the high number in jail deaths stems from a constant circulation of drugs.
“They’ve got a drug smuggling problem at the jail,” said Cummings. “Where are they coming from? We got to be able to narrow this down better than this.”
In September, News 4 reported on the many deaths the jail saw in 2022 and what caused those inmates to die.
A fourth of the reports KFOR had at that time revealed inmates died from a fentanyl overdose.
Opgrande admitted to News 4 both inmates and employees have been caught trying to smuggle in drugs on numerous occasions.
Cummings believes there are easy solutions to correcting the “drug smuggling” problem.
He suggested everyone who goes in and out of the jail be required to walk through an x-ray machine.
Cummings also wants to see a more thorough search of employees.
“I believe Brandi [Garner] is doing a better job than before, but people are still dying right and left,” said Cummings. “We need all hands on deck right now to figure out who’s smuggling the drugs in and why.”
Cummings has in a way become desensitizatied to the jail deaths.
“Not only were they young, that’s the thing that kills me the most but I’m no longer shocked by anything at the jail. I want it to be better and it’s just not,” added Cummings.
Phillips is now anxiously waiting for her daughter to be released from jail on Thursday.
Until then, she fears her child may be the next one to die.
“I’m frustrated because, you know, it hits close to home because my daughter is in there, unfortunately, and it scares me to death,” said Phillips. “I just feel like they should be held accountable. I feel like they need to do what they’re supposed to do and really follow the protocol that’s supposed to be followed, because this is happening too frequently. It’s scary because these are young people that you wouldn’t even think would be passing away this early in life,” said Phillips.
The State Medical Examiner’s Office is now reviewing each one of these deaths.
It could take four to six months before the Medical Examiner’s Office releases those reports, according to the OSME.