‘No mental help:’ Man’s death in jail preceded by pleas for help from family

Family members and a former staff member say they repeatedly asked for Parker Stephens to be moved to a mental health unit at the jail before he died at the Oklahoma County Detention Center. 

A detention officer found the 21-year old dead in his cell on Feb. 3. Family members say staff from the medical examiner’s office and the jail told them there was evidence the death was a suicide.

Stephens’ mother Shannon Stephens and his aunt Stacie Dasovich say they left messages at the detention center’s administrative offices dozens of times in the months leading up to his death.

“I was adamant — yelling somebody better do something, because he’s going to commit suicide,” Dasovich said. 

Oklahoma County Detention Center Administrator Greg Williams said the jail is still waiting for the medical examiner’s office to make a final determination on whether Stephens died by suicide.

In written responses to The Frontier’s questions, Williams said Stephens was housed in the jail’s mental health pod for a period of time, but the unit is only intended to house prisoners who pose a threat to themselves or others based on a mental health diagnosis. 

“It had been over six months since Mr. Stephens had made an action or statement that would warrant that kind of placement,” Williams wrote  “Mental health providers must evaluate symptoms immediately present, and cannot evaluate detainees based on past actions or statements.” 

Williams also said he had no records of requests from Stephens’ family or any other reasons to consider moving him back to the mental health pod. 

“I have no record of a family request of medical staff for evaluation for this placement, or any statements to staff after his reassignment to general population that would have warranted an evaluation.”  

Williams said that the mental health needs of prisoners are not all alike and that not every prisoner with a mental health diagnosis needs to be in the mental health unit.  

“We strive to give detainees a sense of normalcy, and with voluntary medication compliance and counseling as ordered, they can feel like they are not stigmatized out of the gate,” he wrote.

The case highlights ongoing issues at the jail with staffing and providing adequate mental health care for prisoners, said Joy Turner, director of investigation and monitoring for the Oklahoma Disability Law Center. 

The protection and advocacy group has monitored conditions at the jail since 2019, when it was operated by the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office. It launched an investigation after the death of 29-year old Krysten Gonzales, who died by suicide at the jail while awaiting placement in a mental health treatment program. 

Read More: https://www.readfrontier.org/stories/death-in-jail-preceded-by-pleas-for-help-from-family-they-say/

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