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Inmate died after pleas for help were ignored for days, suit says

Jail staff allegedly ignored dying inmate
Jail staff allegedly ignored dying inmate 04:28

A federal lawsuit alleges an inmate was allowed to die by the staff of an Oklahoma county jail despite his repeated pleas over several days, which were captured on surveillance video that's just been made public.

The suit filed in 2017 by the estate of Terral Ellis Jr. and his parents alleges the Ottawa County jail's nurse and staff ignored or disregarded Ellis' pleas until finding him unconscious on Oct. 22, 2015, when he was taken to a hospital and died of sepsis and pneumonia.

"It's a horrific, horrific death," Ellis family attorney Dan Smolen said. "It's jarring."

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Terral Ellis Jr. in undated family photo KOTV

Defendants in the wrongful death and negligence suit include the county, its sheriff, former sheriff, jail staff, former nurse and others. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

According to CBS Tulsa affiliate KOTV, court records say Ellis turned himself in at the jail in Miami, Oklahoma, in response to an outstanding DUI warrant. Smolen told the station Ellis wanted to get the warrant taken care of so he could provide for his child.

The records said he was in good health when he went to the jail on October 10, 2015. Twelve days later, Ellis was hospitalized and died. He was 26.

What the video shows

A voice identified as Ellis' is heard repeating numerous times on the video, "Help. Somebody help."

Other voices, including those of former jailer Charles Shoemaker and former nurse Theresa Horn, were identified through depositions with them, Smolen said.

"We're not calling the ER," Shoemaker said at one point. "We did that the other day."

Ellis is later heard telling Horn his back was broken.

"Listen to me and shut up," Horn said. "We had EMS come over and check you out and there ain't a damn thing, nothing wrong with you, you understand me?"

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Still photos from surveillance video from the Ottawa County Jail, in Miami, Oklahoma, from days in October 2015 when Terral Ellis Jr. was an inmate there KOTV

Fellow inmates intervene

Smolen told KOTV even other inmates could tell Ellis needed medical treatment, but the inmates said Ellis was continually denied that help by medical staff and the nurse.

"He would lay there and get sicker as the days go on, and the inmates were begging the jail staff to do something about it, and they wouldn't," said Smolen.

"I can't imagine being in their shoes having to see what is on the video -- his having to beg for help, and then to have people laugh at him," Smolen told the station.

Smolen said inmates eventually got the staff to call paramedics, but then jail staff told the paramedics Ellis was faking his sickness so he could bond out.

Smolen said he believes paramedics from Integris Baptist Healthcare of Oklahoma didn't give Ellis proper care, and he was eventually moved to a solitary confinement cell.

"His pneumonia progresses, and they threaten him that if he complains they're going to chain him to a metal buckle on the floor," said Smolen.

Smolen said the paramedics were called a second time, then Ellis later died at the hospital.

Comments sought from defendants

Attorneys for Horn and Shoemaker didn't immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Ambre Gooch, an attorney for Sheriff Jeremy Floyd, didn't return a phone call for comment, but said in an email to the online news outlet The Frontier that the current sheriff isn't responsible for what happened.

"While Mr. Ellis' death is of course sad and unfortunate, it was not caused by any action or inaction of the Sheriff in his official capacity," Gooch wrote.

KOTV said it contacted everyone involved in the suit and the only one who got back to the station was Integris Baptist, which said it couldn't comment on ongoing litigation.

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