The Phillips & Associates Oklahoma Law Blog


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By Dustin Phillips on
December 29, 2016
December 20, 2020

Another Oklahoma County Jail inmate has died in custody, bringing the total number of inmate deaths at the jail this year to 12. With an average of one death per month at the jail, 2016 has been a record breaking year as far at the number of jail deaths.

On December 20, jail officials found Richard Smith, 57, unresponsive in his cell. The man died of complications from a pre-existing medical condition.

Authorities say Smith was arrested on Sunday on a complaint of driving under suspension and for an outstanding warrant for possession of a controlled substance. Upon booking, the man told jail employees that he had cirrhosis of the liver, and he was transferred to the jail's medical unit.

On Monday, he was found unresponsive in his cell. The state Medical Examiner's Office determined the cause of death to be complications from cirrhosis and the manner of death to be natural.

Smith's death is the twelfth death at the Oklahoma County Jail this year. Five of those deaths have been ruled suicide. The remaining deaths are from natural causes:

  • Ismael Shee Liwanag � Age:59 � Jailed June 29, 2015, on domestic assault charge and probation violation in rape case � Died Jan. 13 � Suspected cause: Natural
  • Dale Stanley Schmidt � Age: 58 � Jailed March 11 on complaint of lewd acts with a child � Died March 13 � Suspected cause: Suicide by hanging
  • Debbie Louise McAbee � Age: 55 � Jailed March 12 on misdemeanor larceny charge � Died April 8 � Autopsy findings: Natural cause, intracranial hemorrhage
  • Rebecca Anne Roberts � Age: 58 � Jailed March 23 for probation violation in assault case � Died April 11 � Autopsy findings: Natural cause, sepsis
  • Joseph Carter Wilson � Age: 30 � Jailed Oct. 5 on indecent exposure charge and probation violation in assault case after treatment at mental hospital � Died May 20 � Autopsy findings: Suicide by hanging
  • Cody Joe McDonald � Age: 28 � Jailed May 11 on drug possession charge � Died May 22 � Autopsy findings: Suicide by hanging
  • Bruno Elias Bermea � Age: 53 � Jailed June 5 on 2014 charge of possession of a firearm after felony conviction � Died June 7 � Suspected cause: Natural
  • Robert Vinson Hollis � Age: 60 � Jailed June 22 on probation violation in drug case � Died June 25 � Suspected cause: Suicide
  • Michael G. Novosad � Age: 51 � Jailed June 23 on drug possession charge � Died June 26 � Suspected cause: Natural
  • Violet Buford � Age: 25 � Jailed July 25 on complaint of assault on a police officer � Died at a local hospital a few days after giving birth
  • Joanna Cortez � Age: 39 � Jailed June 23 on complaint of enabling child sexual abuse � Died September 22 � Suspected cause: Suicide by hanging
  • Richard Smith � Age: 57 � Jailed December 18 on complaints of driving under suspension and drug possession � Died September 19 � Suspected cause: Natural, complications from cirrhosis of the liver

The Oklahoma County Jail has been criticized almost since its opening. The facility is over capacity and does not have sufficient mental health resources or medical resources for its excessive population. Sheriff John Whetsel has requested a new county jail to be built, but community leaders developed a task force to create recommendations for reducing the jail population rather than finding a larger facility to house them.

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