McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

March 4, 2013

Ex-OSP guards in court on inmate death

By Rachel Petersen
Staff Writer

McALESTER — The three Oklahoma State Penitentiary guards appeared in court Feb. 22 after being charged in the death of an OSP inmate who started a fire in his cell. David Anderson, 56; David Willis, 29, and Jay Nair, 46, all of McAlester, were charged Feb. 1 in Pittsburg County District Court with one felony count of second degree manslaughter and one misdemeanor count of willful neglect to perform duty.

The charges against Willis, Nair and Anderson were filed after the Oklahoma Department of Corrections internal affairs division investigated the July 28 death of OSP inmate Julius J. Parker, 26.

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.”

The inmate wasn’t removed from his cell for more than an hour after OSP employees first saw the smoke and later died due to smoke inhalation.

All three former OSP workers are scheduled to appear back in court June 3 at 9 a.m. for a preliminary hearing.

The DOC public information officer Jerry Massie has confirmed that Anderson and Nair resigned from OSP in August and Willis was terminated in September.

Anderson had worked at OSP since 1991, Massie said. Nair was hired in 2007 and Willis in 2006. Three other OSP employees were terminated as a result of the incident but have not charged.

Agents with the DOC internal affairs division interviewed OSP employees, and four were terminated: Jerry Hunt, Beatrice Glover and Larry Jiles.

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 state. “No other personnel went to the door of Parker’s cell until 2:24 p.m.,” court records state.

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., an OSP extraction team arrived at Parker’s cell and removed him from the smoke-filled room, court documents state.

Parker was taken to 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. Hunt, Glover and Jiles have not been charged in connection with the DOC investigation. On Aug. 27, Hunt, a safety consultant at the prison, 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, Glover, a security manager for OSP, received a termination letter stating that inspection reports had been found in which Glover indicated “all fire alarms are in working order.”

The termination letter states the alarm system in question had in fact been non-functional since June 24 and therefore could not have been in working order. On Sept. 7, Willis, a correctional officer at the prison charged in Parker’s death, 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, Jiles, a security manager for OSP, received a termination letter stating 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.” 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 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 Anderson and neither Anderson or Layden returned a phone message seeking comment. Attorney Jeff Contreras is representing 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. 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 DOC and OSP declined to comment pending case dispositions. Contact Rachel Petersen at rpetersen@mcalesternews.com.

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