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Oklahoma Jail, Site of Deadly Standoff, Had Substandard Conditions, Report Found

An Oklahoma jail where a hostage standoff on Saturday left an inmate dead and a guard injured was found last month “not to be in substantial compliance” with state health standards after investigators documented overcrowded living quarters, staff shortages, leaky roofs and moldy showers.

An inspection by the Oklahoma State Department of Health in February found that showers at the jail, the Oklahoma County Detention Center, were covered in “black residue which appeared to be mold and mildew.” Some showers were clogged and had standing water, which had “a strong and pungent odor,” the report found, and the “hot water” in one shower measured 56 degrees.

Inmates told investigators that the facilities “had been in this condition for several months.” They also said it was “not unusual” to have access to a shower only once every eight days.

Air vents at the jail, which is in Oklahoma City, also had “a buildup of lint and black residue.” Living quarters were dirty and overcrowded, with three inmates living in a space that could safely hold one, the report said, and a leaky roof often led to “several inches of water” filling the floors of the laundry, kitchen and basement areas.

The hostage standoff on Saturday occurred just after 4 p.m. local time, as medication was being given to inmates. An officer was overpowered and taken hostage by at least one inmate, said Greg Williams, the detention center’s administrator, speaking at a news conference on Saturday night.

The inmate then took the officer’s radio and keys and freed other inmates from their cells, Mr. Williams said. No other staff member was injured, and Mr. Williams said he was unsure how many inmates had been released from their cells or had been involved in the standoff. Sheriff Tommie Johnson III said that the authorities had tried to de-escalate the situation but that the inmate had held an unspecified object to the officer’s neck, prompting Oklahoma City police officers to fatally shoot the inmate.

The inmate who was killed, Curtis Williams, 34, was being held on rape charges.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Greg Williams, the jail administrator, said that he had told Curtis Williams’s family that “we regretted how that ended.”

He said that the struggles at the detention center were largely because of “insufficient staffing and infrastructure” and that episodes like the fatal hostage standoff “certainly make recruitment more difficult, as one might imagine.”

The report by the Oklahoma State Department of Health found “a lapse of inmate supervision.” Inmates “seldom see staff presence in the units, and when they do it is brief,” the report said.

A person recording inside the center during the standoff could be heard complaining about its conditions. “The water don’t work,” the unidentified person said. “The toilet’s backed up. This is what we’re dealing with.”

Tricia Everest, chair of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, which oversees the jail, said at the news conference on Wednesday that officials would work to “change the culture and really work at increasing staffing.”

The quality of life for inmates, she said, was “paramount.”

Citing a review of records, the report found that in January, the jail had failed to notify the state health department of 40 “serious injuries of inmates requiring transfer to an outside medical facility.”

Inmates also complained of bedbugs, and said that their bedding was exchanged every six to seven weeks — less frequently than the required weekly changes. Food was often cold, served late or missing as a result of staffing shortages, the report said.

Another example of substandard conditions in the report was an inmate who had been handcuffed to a bar in a hallway for hours waiting to be taken back to his living quarters after receiving medical attention. Calls from inmates for assistance went unanswered, and the report cited multiple instances of inmates who had not received medications they had been prescribed.

Barry Edwards, the detention program manager for the state health department, wrote in a letter on March 8 to Mr. Williams, the jail administrator, that “if the deficiencies listed in the report” were not corrected within 60 days of receipt, the health commissioner would file a complaint with the attorney general or the district attorney.

A 2008 report by the U.S. Department of Justice found there were issues with overcrowding, staffing and inmate supervision at the jail. Inspectors also found there were 2,400 inmates in the jail at the time of their visit, although the center was intended to hold half that number.

Christina Morales contributed reporting.

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