Attorneys File Contempt Motion Against DOC Over Inmate

Thursday, November 25th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Attorneys filed a contempt motion Wednesday against the Department of Corrections, alleging deliberate failure to comply with a federal court order to improve inmate medical services. Louis Bullock and Tom Seymour filed the motion with U.S. District Judge Michael Burrage, who is considering a settlement agreement in the Battle vs. Anderson case, a class-action inmate lawsuit that began 27 years ago.

Burrage issued an April 23 order requiring the department to make improvements in its medical system, a story from the Capitol bureau of the Tulsa World said. Corrections Department director James Saffle and the agency have shown an "absolute defiance of all their obligations. They have even refused to comply with their own promises," the contempt motion alleges. The alleged failures, cited in reports by the court's medical consultant in the case, range from vacancies in healthcare staff to non-implementation of a policy for the treatment of tuberculosis.

A member of the state Board of Corrections said he welcomed the contempt motion because it will give the department an opportunity to show the progress it has made in fulfilling the court order. Burrage also is asked to hold an expedited hearing on the matter and fine Saffle, the Board of Corrections and the Department of Corrections by an amount the court sees necessary to obtain compliance. The lawyers informed First Assistant Attorney General Tom Gruber in a Nov. 19 letter that they were considering a contempt motion. The abrupt Nov. 5 resignation of DOC Chief Medical Officer Dr.Armond Start after four months on the job clinched the decision, Bullock said Wednesday.

Dr. Jo Ann G. Ryan was approved as new chief medical officer by the Board of Corrections on Monday. "Since the trial in April, the defendants' efforts have been directed at improving appearances rather than addressing the crisis in health care," Bullock wrote in his brief accompanying the contempt motion. "With Dr. Start's resignation, the facade has been ripped off and the real ugliness of what has been going on has been revealed."
In a Nov. 10 court deposition included in the contempt filing, Start accused department leaders of being "All talk. No action." "I believe that I was employed to fix the system, and that was what I was committed to do, but I was not given the power and the authority to fix the system," Start testified. "I began to feel like I was a piece of wallpaper, that the department had bought my reputation .5/8.5/8. and that's all they wanted from me, and when I became convinced that there was going to be no change, I resigned." Start testified that his efforts to improve medical services were constantly undermined by department leaders, whom he suspected regarded him as "part of the enemy."

Corrections Board member Michael Roark said he also believes Start failed to live up to department expectations.

"My opinion is that the conditions that caused the failure of Dr. Start left with Dr. Start," he said.

Roark contends that Start had adequate access to the department leaders. He said he welcomes the contempt motion. "It will give us an opportunity to respond to the continued stream of allegations that Mr. Bullock has put out for public consumption without giving the department the chance to respond, "he said.