'Ignored Obvious Signs Of Urgent Medical Emergency': Lawsuit Filed After A Man Dies In Lawton Prison

The almost 40-page lawsuit details claims that prison doctors and nurses neglected their duty to provide even basic medical care, and claims prison staff falsified records surrounding Justin Barrientos death.

Tuesday, December 5th 2023, 5:10 pm



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An Oklahoma City mother has filed a lawsuit against the state’s only privately owned prison, claiming her son was denied life-saving medical care. Justin Barrientos died in the Lawton Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility in January.

His mother filed this civil suit, with hopes that this never happens again.

The almost 40-page lawsuit details claims that prison doctors and nurses neglected their duty to provide even basic medical care, and claims prison staff falsified records surrounding Justin Barrientos death.

“The tragic death of a young man in Lawton, a prison operated by a private prison group,” said Paul DeMuro, the attorney representing Justin’s mother, Linda Gray.

Lawton Facility is the only privately owned prison in the state, run by Florida-based company, GEO. The company has a contract with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, but ultimately has the main oversight over the prison.

The lawsuit claims Justin begged for essential medical treatment for “several days” after swallowing a spork resulting in a bowel perforation. DeMuro says an X-ray showed the perforation, and that Justin should have been transferred out of the facility for immediate, life-saving medical care.

Instead, the lawsuit says Justin was transferred to a single-cell and placed on suicide watch. The lawsuit also claims that Justin was begging for help, but was “met with indifference and dismissal by GEO’s correctional and medical staff.”

“Basically ignored obvious signs of urgent medical emergency and as a result, Mr. Barrientos died alone in a suicide watch cell,” said DeMuro.

The ODOC conducted two separate investigations after Barrientos’ death. DeMuro says one of those investigations showed that Lawton’s prison logs were falsified.

During Justin’s suicide watch time, prison staff were required to have been watching the camera in his cell 24/7. The lawsuit claims the prison logs were falsified to indicate that he was being watched when he wasn’t, at one point saying he was “awake and quiet” when he had already been dead for 90 minutes.

“One of two things happened. Either the correctional officers who were responsible for keeping a continuous watch on Mr. Barrientos failed to do so for prolonged periods of time, or they watched him in obvious medical distress and did nothing to intervene,” said DeMuro.

DeMuro is hoping this case will shed light on what he says are systemic problems with a privately run prison.

“The heart of this case is a referendum on whether Oklahoma should have a private for-profit company running our prisons, and certainly running and caring for folks that have the severe type of mental illness that Justin had. It's just not a good equation and it needs to change,” said DeMuro.

A GEO group spokesperson said in a statement: “We offer our condolences to Mr. Barrientos’ family and remain committed to ensuring the health and safety of all those in our care.” The spokesperson adds that they have no further comment while the litigation is pending.

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