Oklahoma Lawmakers Agree on $1M Settlement Over Inmate’s Death

May 25, 2023 by

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma lawmakers on Tuesday signed off on a $1.05 million settlement with the family of a state prison inmate who died of appendicitis in 2018 despite five visits to the prison’s medical staff in the week before his death.

Attorneys for Joshua England’s family say the 21-year-old citizen of the Choctaw Nation reported severe abdominal pain and classic appendicitis symptoms that worsened during his five separate visits with medical clinic staff in May 2018.

England’s mother, Christina Smith, filed a federal lawsuit against prison officials in 2019, alleging that medical staff at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma, also falsified records after his death. Despite rapid weight loss and worsening symptoms, England was given acid reflux medicine and a laxative but was never given a proper abdominal exam or sent to a nearby medical facility for a surgical evaluation, the lawsuit alleges.

England “was to be released in a few months, and he died alone in agonizing pain on the concrete floor of his cellblock, caused by an entirely treatable and preventable condition,” Smith’s attorneys said in a statement on Tuesday.

Kay Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, declined to comment on the case, citing the pending litigation. In response to the lawsuit, attorneys for the state claimed the defendants were acting within the scope of their employment and were therefore improper parties to the claim.

England had been sentenced to 343 days in prison after convictions in 2017 on multiple charges, including taking oil field equipment, fourth-degree arson, contributing to the delinquency of minors and conspiracy, prison records show. England and another man, along with a juvenile, damaged oil field equipment and set some hay bales on fire after a night of drinking, court records show.

“If the state of Oklahoma is intent on locking up so many of its citizens for nonviolent offenses, the state needs to devote far more resources and attention to its correctional system to fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide basic medical care for people in its custody,” Smith’s attorneys said.

The Oklahoma Senate approved a resolution on Tuesday authorizing the settlement agreement. That measure now heads to the House for final approval. Such approval is required under state law for any litigation settlement expenditures of more than $250,000.