Ex-Oklahoma County jail guard pleads guilty in abuse
Man faced reduced misdemeanor charge of violating county jail inmate’s civil rights
BY NOLAN CLAY
Published: December 3, 2009
Christopher Beckman, 34. The inmate died after a struggle with guards at the Oklahoma County jail in 2007.
A fired guard once blamed in a felony charge for an Oklahoma County jail inmate’s death pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor instead.
Justin Mark Isch The former Oklahoma County jail guard pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating an inmate’s civil rights.
Another fired guard, Gavin Douglas Littlejohn, 26, of Oklahoma City, still faces trial Monday on the felony charge. Prosecutors on Tuesday revealed they have a secret recording of Littlejohn admitting to hitting the inmate.
A third former guard, William Ira Hathorn, 29, of Oklahoma City, pleaded guilty Wednesday to lying to investigators about the inmate’s death. Hathorn faces up to three years in federal prison.
Isch and Littlejohn were fired from the Oklahoma County sheriff’s office Feb. 2 after a federal grand jury indicted them over the inmate’s death. Grand jurors alleged the two violated the inmate’s civil rights on May 26, 2007, by using so much excessive force that the inmate died.
Defense attorney Mack Martin said prosecutors reduced the civil rights violation against Isch to a misdemeanor after determining through further investigation that his conduct was not “in any way” to blame for the death.
The inmate, Christopher Beckman, 34, of Choctaw, died May 28, 2007, two days after struggling with guards. The struggle began after he reportedly had seizures in his cell. He had been arrested on complaints of driving under the influence, driving under suspension, two counts of drug possession and failure to show insurance verification.
An autopsy concluded Beckman died from blunt force head trauma severe enough to cause brain swelling.
The indictment claims Isch used Beckman’s head to open a steel door and Littlejohn repeatedly struck Beckman about the head and face. The Oklahoma County Sheriff fired both men when the indictment was unsealed. The Sheriff’s office issued a statement that read, “The OCSO is disappointed that these two former employees have found themselves in this situation.”
Notice how that statement puts a distance between the Sheriff and these two employees now as “former employees?” They were certainly employees at the time of the death. And notice the use of the passive voice about the men “finding themselves in this situation? No mention of any wrongdoing, alleged or otherwise. No mention of regretting the death, much less the alleged act of murder. No mention that still another person has had his life taken while in the custody of the Oklahoma County Sheriff, this one making it more than 40 in number since January 2000. No wonder the federal government moved all its prisoners out of that jail.
Christopher Beckman died May 28, 2007, at St. Anthony’s Hospital. The state medical examiner’s office reported the death as a homicide in June, 2008, and the indictment followed eight months later. Defendants Isch and Littlejohn have not yet come to trial on the indictment.
At the time of the death, sheriff’s spokesman Mark Myers claimed Beckman suffered his injuries during a seizure while being transferred from his cell to a medical wing. Myers said he was being taken from the second floor to the first “when he fell face first to the floor and began convulsing.” Then, Myers claimed, Beckman became “combative with officers at that point and suffered several cuts to his face.” Myers said there was a video recording of the incident and said “at no time is there any evidence that any detention officers struck the victim.”
Obviously the Sheriff’s complete denial at the time of death was not enough to overcome the medical examiner’s report that concluded there was no possible way the victim could have died from anything but a homicide. Obviously, the United States Attorney believed the medical examiner rather than the Sheriff.