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BY Francis Akhalbey, 12:36pm March 13, 2023,

Family awarded $82 million in what was described as the ‘largest standing civil rights death claim verdict in US history’

Gwendolyn Young died while she was being held at the Tulsa County jail -- Photo via KTUL

A federal jury on February 24 awarded $82 million to the family of an Oklahoma woman who died while in custody. According to Fox 23, the lawyer for the plaintiff said Gwendolyn Young was suffering severe and life-threatening health issues when she died alone in a cell at the Tulsa County jail in 2013. 

The lawsuit, which was filed against Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc. (CHC), reportedly stated that Young was not taken to the hospital for treatment despite the seriousness of her condition. The deceased inmate had been detained for about a year prior to her death. During her medical crises, Young, at a certain point informed a jail staff member that she was vomiting blood, Tulsa World reported. But the staffer replied that the blood was “not enough” and looked like Kool-Aid. 

Daniel Smolen, who is the attorney for Young’s daughter Deborah Young, said the deceased Black woman had displayed multiple symptoms including “signs of respiratory distress, days of vomiting blood and not eating, changes in mental status, dizziness, unresponsiveness, unsteady gait, difficulty walking, and falling.”

Smolen also said Young “predicted her own death” while she was being detained at the Tulsa County jail. Added Smollen: “On December 3, 2012, Ms. Young woke up in the Jail’s Special Housing Unit and told an officer on duty that she ‘was not going to make it in Jail ….’ Ms. Young knew — due to the culture of indifference permeating the Jail under Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc. (“CHC”) — that her serious medical needs would not be addressed. Her dire prognostication proved tragically prophetic.” She died in February 2013. 

Deborah Young was awarded $14 million in compensatory damages and $68 million in punitive damages, Fox 23 reported. Smolen said the amount awarded is “believed to be the largest standing civil rights death claim verdict in US history”, adding that it is a “tribute to the memory of Deborah’s beloved mother, Gwendolyn Young.”

And though a lawyer representing CHC sympathized with Young’s family, he said they were exploring the possibility of appealing the verdict. “Correctional Health Care Companies is nonetheless disappointed with the verdict, which we do not believe reflects the facts of the matter. We are exploring the next steps, including appeal. We hold patients at the center of everything we do,” Attorney Sean P. Snider said. “We take the responsibility of providing medical services seriously and will continue to work diligently to ensure that we meet and exceed industry standards. We remain focused on the health and well-being of our patients and their care remains our top priority.”

In a statement, the Tulsa County Jail also said, “This incident occurred in 2013, under the leadership of TCSO’s previous administration. This is the last lawsuit that remained unresolved from that era.

Since Sheriff Regalado took Office in 2016, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office has changed jail medical providers, instituted the use of new technology, and mandated additional training to ensure the proper medical and mental health care of inmates at the Tulsa county jail.”

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 13, 2023


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