Pottawatomie County jail officials covered up the deaths of detainees in their care. On Wednesday, the jail’s second in command was promoted and given a bonus.

Capt. Bobby Thompson trains and supervises detention officers and conducts internal investigations when a detainee is injured or dies. The results of those investigations are turned over to jail administrator Breonna Thompson, Bobby Thompson’s boss and wife. 

During a Wednesday meeting, the five members of the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center Trust discussed Bobby Thompson’s annual review behind closed doors in executive session. Neither Thompson nor his wife were in the room. After reopening the meeting to the public, the trust voted unanimously to promote Capt. Bobby Thompson to Major, and approved a .50 per hour raise and $7,500 bonus. 

“Someone thank that young man for us,” Trust Chairman Rick Stiles said. 

The praise follows a September investigation by Oklahoma Watch that revealed Pottawatomie County jail officials concealed information about the deaths of seven detainees who arrived at the jail in need of medical or mental health care. 

One of those detainees was Ronald Given, a Kiowa man who died in 2019 as a result of an altercation with jailers. A sergeant who accompanied Given to the hospital after the fatal struggle told state investigators that Bobby Thompson directed her to exclude bruises and swelling on Given’s face from her written report. No one has been prosecuted in Given’s death, which a state medical examiner ruled a homicide. 

In the newest of three wrongful death lawsuits against the jail, Russell Gage filed a federal claim this month blaming the jail for the death of his father who was beaten to death by his cellmate last year.

Since Oklahoma Watch published its investigation, the jail’s attorneys complied with a court order to release video footage of Kellie Wright’s detention to her wife, who filed a federal lawsuit against the jail in July. Wright’s wife, Shelly Cailler, said when she arrived at the hospital, Wright was on life support and covered in unexplained bruises and broken bones. Wright, 50, died the day after she was booked into jail in 2021 from a brain injury caused by cardiac arrest, according to an autopsy report. 

The investigation also prompted the jail’s attorneys to release to Oklahoma Watch some public records about the detainees who died. Other requests for public information remain unanswered. 

Jail officials reported only two of the seven deaths to the State Health Department, which regulates the health and safety of detainees statewide. A jail inspector conducted an unannounced investigation of the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center in August after Oklahoma Watch provided its findings to the health department. The jail was found in compliance, according to the inspection report

This month, Oklahoma Watch unearthed information about an eighth Pottawatomie County jail detainee that died under the Thompsons’ guard. On Sept. 2, 2021, Karl Schmeusser, 46, was transported from the jail to St. Anthony Hospital in Shawnee where he died of respiratory damage due to COVID-19, according to a state medical examiner report. Jail officials did not report his death to the health department.  

Pottawatomie County prosecutor Adam Panter said Wednesday that an investigation into the jail’s handling of those deaths is ongoing. 

Phil Bacharach, spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, said he could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation into the Pottawatomie County jail.

Whitney Bryen is an investigative reporter at Oklahoma Watch covering vulnerable populations. Her recent investigations focus on mental health and substance abuse, criminal justice, domestic violence and nursing homes. Contact her at (405) 201-6057 or wbryen@oklahomawatch.org. Follow her on Twitter @SoonerReporter.

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