2007 Inmate Death Remains Under Investigation

Wednesday, January 7th 2009, 12:08 am
By: News 9

By Dave Jordan, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- There is new information in the death of an inmate inside the Oklahoma County jail.

Christopher Beckman, 34, died in May 2007 after he was arrested on suspicion of DUI. At the time the sheriff's department said that Beckman suffered injuries during a seizure. But a year later, the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

At least nine jailers in the building and one inmate had knowledge or direct contact with Beckman the day of his arrest. They detailed their version of events in an internal investigation conducted by the Oklahoma County jail.

William Holmes, an inmate who shared a cell with Beckman, saw first-hand what happened the night jailers came to get Beckman for a routine psychiatric evaluation.

According to an internal investigation, obtained by NEWS 9, Holmes said, "Beckman fell face-first on the floor" and continued to "shake violently and was bouncing around."

Prior to that violent reaction, Beckman, according to Holmes, said that he was taking several medications, two of which were Lortab and Xanax; medications Beckman's family maintains was prescribed and medication a family attorney says jailers took away from him the night of his arrest.

"If they have medical needs, those medical needs are supposed to be addressed promptly, even though they are in jail," Beckman family attorney Ed Abel said.

Beckman was arrested the day before his death on several charges, among them suspicion of driving under the influence.

Jailers who arrived at Beckman's cell claim he fought them every step of the way.

Corporal Kelli Cunningham said Beckman was "being resistant with officers by kicking and resisting being handcuffed."

Another jailer, Officer Richard Stimsom, says one of his colleagues "got on her knees to keep Beckman from thrashing around and hitting his head and face against the bench and desk."

After the struggle, Beckman was taken to the jail's medical wing and later to St. Anthony Hospital where he died. Officials said at the time that his death was caused by a seizure. But an attorney for the Beckman family says he was mishandled by at least nine jailers on duty.

"I certainly don't think it will take that many people to control somebody who is having a seizure," Abel said. "I think most physicians would support that view."

The bigger issue is whether the jailers were responsible for Beckman's death. The medical examiner listed the cause of death as blunt force head trauma. A federal investigation is on-going.

Because of that, the FBI wouldn't comment on this investigation.

Eight of the nine jailers remain on duty. One quit shortly after Beckman's death.

The family of Christopher Beckman has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. Meanwhile investigators are reviewing surveillance tape that reportedly shows what happened outside Beckman's cell.