Jury rules county, sheriff not liable in death of former inmate's baby - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

Jury rules county, sheriff not liable in death of former inmate's baby

Updated:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A federal jury deliberated less than two hours before ruling on Monday that Oklahoma County and Sheriff John Whetsel were not liable in the death of a former jail inmate's baby.

Debra Ann Smith alleged in a civil trial that Oklahoma County jail employees ignored her requests for medical care, and she gave birth to a premature baby on March 18, 1998. Her attorneys said a lack of care caused the child's death.

``There was such overwhelming evidence of ongoing neglect,'' attorney Mark Hammons said. ``Honestly, I didn't think it was a real close case.''

Attorneys representing the county and the sheriff maintained that Smith suffered a miscarriage. Whetsel said he is relieved and pleased with the verdict, but declined to comment when asked if the trial evidence would affect his jail policies.

County Commissioner Stuart Ernest shook his head as the verdict was read. Assistant District Attorney Richard Mann, who represented the county, declined comment.

During closing arguments Monday, Hammons told jurors that no one was disciplined and no policies were changed as a result of the event.

``What happened to Debra Smith was the customary way people were treated in the jail,'' Hammons said.

Mann said there were inconsistencies in testimony from Smith and other plaintiff witnesses, who he characterized as people with criminal convictions or disgruntled former jail employees.

``It's a jail. It's not a hospital,'' Mann said.

Attorney Kenneth Coe, who represented Whetsel in his individual capacity, told jurors that Smith did not get care because she did not notify jail employees of her pregnancy. Coe said that had jail employees known there was a problem, they would have helped her.

Hammons said he is unsure if his client will appeal.

``We're concerned that the jail could have problem after problem after problem ... and not have any accountability,'' he said.
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