McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

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August 5, 2013

Father of dead OSP inmate sues Oklahoma

McALESTER — The father of an inmate who died while in custody at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester has filed a lawsuit against three OSP guards, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the state of Oklahoma.

Julius Jordan Parker, 26, died July 28, 2012, after his cell at OSP was reportedly on fire. Parker’s father, Kevin J. Parker, filed the wrongful death lawsuit on July 26 in Pittsburg County District Court.

In the filed court documents, Kevin Parker names former OSP guards David Anderson, Jay Nair and David Willis as defendants. All three men are also facing manslaughter charges in a criminal case in connection with Julius Parker’s death. In that case, all three men have entered not guilty pleas and are do back in court Aug. 26 at 9 a.m.

In the civil lawsuit, Kevin Parker also names the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the state of Oklahoma as defendants. Because the state is “responsible for the acts of its employees acting within the scope of employment,” the lawsuit alleges, “defendants Department of Corrections and State of Oklahoma are liable for the acts of defendants Willis, Anderson and Nair. ... Defendants owed Julius Jordan Parker a duty of care. In fact, the defendant correctional officers, and the Department and State vicariously and as government entities housing prisoners, had specific empoyment duties to sustain and assure the safety of Julius Parker,” the lawsuit alleges.

According to court records in the criminal manslaughter case, the three correctional officers — Anderson, 56, Willis, 30, and Nair, 47 — were charged Feb. 1 in Pittsburg County District Court with one felony count of second-degree manslaughter.

The charges allege the three guards effected the death of Parker “by culpable negligence in failing to perform their duties as correctional officers, including but not limited to checking on inmate Julius Parker’s welfare and failing to determine cause of smoke coming from his cell.”

According to court records, Parker ignited a fire in his cell on H-Unit at OSP on July 28. At 1:29 p.m. that day, smoke became visible to OSP’s surveillance cameras. “At (1:38 p.m.), Correctional Officers David Anderson and Jay Nair went to Parker’s cell to investigate the smoke,” court documents allege. “No other personnel went to the door of Parker’s cell until 2:24 p.m.” At that time a correctional officer “informed his chain of command of the condition of the cell, i.e. full of smoke with zero visibility, and that he could not get the occupant to respond.”

At 2:50 p.m., the OSP extraction team arrived at Parker’s cell and removed him from the smoke-filled room, court documents state. Parker was taken to the McAlester Regional Health Center where he was pronounced dead at 3:47 p.m. A medical examiner’s report indicates Parker’s death was a result of complications of smoke inhalation.

At the time of his death, Parker was serving a 15-year sentence for a 2005 Tulsa County conviction of robbery with a firearm. After completing that sentence, he was set to serve another 15 years for possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of a firearm and concealing stolen property. His scheduled release date was Dec. 26, 2032, and he had a parole hearing set in July of 2017.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections Internal Affairs division investigated the incident. During the investigation, agents interviewed numerous OSP employees. Following the interviews, four employees were terminated, as confirmed by DOC termination letters sent to each of the four employees.

On Aug. 27, 2012, OSP Safety Consultant Jerry Hunt received a termination letter stating that when investigating the cause of the fire, internal affairs determined the fire alarm system had been tampered with and was not functioning. The letter cites failure to carry out inspections of the alarm systems as reasoning for Hunt’s termination.

On Sept. 5, 2012, OSP Security Manager Beatrice S. Glover received a termination letter stating that when investigating the cause of the fire, internal affairs found inspection reports in which Glover indicated “all fire alarms are in working order.” The termination letter states that the alarm system in question had in fact been non-functional since June 24, 2012, and therefore could not have been in working order.

On Sept. 7, 2012, correctional officer Willis received a termination letter stating he was assigned as the control room officer on the day and shift in question and failed to “act as outlined in policy.”

On Sept. 13, 2012, Security Manager Larry Jiles received a termination letter stating that he was informed by Nair at 1:50 p.m. on the day in question about the smoldering fire in Parker’s cell. “You chose to end your shift and leave the premises,” the termination letter states. “You took no responsibility as to what was happening during your tour of duty and left without reporting any information to your supervisors.”

Hunt, Glover and Jiles have not been criminally charged.

According to court records, Nair and Anderson checked Parker’s cell and saw the smoke, then reported the smoke to their supervisor. An affidavit indicates Nair allegedly falsely reported Parker being conscious when they checked on him. The affidavit also indicates Anderson allegedly did not “contradict Nair or offer different observations to the oncoming shift.” Finally, the affidavit indicates Willis allegedly did not leave the control booth and check on Parker or contact his chain of command to “inform them of the incident, because he felt Jay Nair had appropriately informed the chain of command.”

Terry Crenshaw, OSP’s warden’s assistant, confirmed that Nair, Anderson and Willis are no longer employed at OSP.

Attorney Michael Parks is representing David Willis. “I believe he will be exonerated if the case goes to trial — based on my review of the facts and the law in this case,” Parks told the News-Capital. “I believe it will be difficult for the state to prove Mr. Willis is guilty of culpable negligence beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Attorney Pat Layden is representing David Anderson and neither Anderson or Layden returned a phone message seeking comment.

Attorney Jeff Contreras is representing Jay Nair.

“Mr. Nair is a law-abiding citizen, who also happens to be a very nice guy,” Contreras said in a written statement provided to the News-Capital. “Mr. Nair did nothing wrong, criminal or otherwise. In fact, he performed his duties specifically as ordered.

“If DOC wants to play the blame game, perhaps DOC should take a harder look at the actions of its employees further up the chain of command, or at its own policies on how to handle the type of situation with which Mr. Nair was confronted. It there is any culpability at all, we believe that is where it lies.

“In any event, this proceeding is a pursuit of justice, and justice is exactly what we are pursuing.”

Contreras declined to comment further on the case.

If convicted, Nair, Anderson and Willis are facing up to four years in prison for the manslaughter charge and up to one year in jail for the neglect charge.

Representatives from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the Oklahoma State Penitentiary declined to comment pending case dispositions. However, Jerry Massie, DOC public information officer, confirmed that Anderson and Nair resigned in August and Willis was terminated in September. Massie also confirmed that Anderson was hired at OSP in 1991, Nair in 2007 and Willis in 2006.

Contact Rachel Petersen at rpetersen@mcalesternews.com.

For more on this story, see the print or electronic editions of the McAlester News-Capital. Click here for print edition home delivery or click here to see the Smart Edition for your computer, tablet, e-reader or smart phone.

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