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‘It’s Still Unreal’: Ailing Oklahoma Woman Was Told Her Blood Looked Like ‘Kool-Aid’ By Jail Staff, She Died Two Days Later. Now Her Family Will Receive Historic $82M Settlement.

The family of an Oklahoma woman who died while in jail was awarded $82 million by a federal jury. The verdict is considered the largest civil rights verdict in U.S. history according to attorneys.

Gwendolyn Young’s family say the jury award issued on Feb. 24, will help a decade’s worth of much needed healing.

Gwendolyn Young, 53, died in a Tulsa, OK jail in Feb. 2013. (Photo: Facebook/ Deborah Young-Powell)

Young, 53, was in custody at the Tulsa County Jail in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2013. While incarcerated she experienced several heart problems and other ailments but rather than send her to a hospital, she was left at the jail according to the lawsuit.

“The jail wasn’t equipped to handle more severe illnesses,” attorney Dan Smolen told Atlanta Black Star.

Young was incarcerated after being accused of threatening a public official in July 2011. Court documents state, Young told the judge, “…and let’s just say neither of you will wake up in the morning.” Young also claimed the judge was racist.

Young’s daughter said her mother suffered from bipolar disorder when she threatened the judge.

In October 2012, a jury found her guilty of the charge and she was sentenced to a year in the Tulsa County jail. While locked up, Young’s health deteriorated according to court documents. She reportedly had a history of heart problems, and she complained about nausea, vomiting, back and stomach pains.

Smolen accused jail medical staff of denying her adequate treatment she needed from a hospital.

The lawsuit was filed against Correctional Healthcare Companies which has since been acquired by Wellpath. Wellpath was the medical provider for the jail at the time. Tulsa County settled a separate claim with the family in 2021.

The lawsuit accused Wellpath of incentivizing jail staff to keep sick inmates at the jail for medical treatment rather than sending them to the hospital. It further alleged keeping sick inmates at the jail meant the company would not have to pay the initial out of pocket costs.  

“The less amount of people that get sent to the hospital, the more money the private healthcare company makes,” Smolen told KTUL.

Just days before Young died, her daughter Deborah Young-Powell said her mother complained of lower back and stomach pain.

A screenshot of people incarcerated at a county jail. (Photo: Getty)

Smolen told Atlanta Black Star, jail medical staff claimed Young was “faking her injuries and symptoms.”

The Tulsa World reported on Feb. 6, Young told jail staff she was throwing up blood and a staffer told her there was “not enough blood” and it looked like Kool-Aid. Instead of sending her to the hospital, Smolen said jail staff kept her locked up for a week.

KTUL reports Young’s autopsy said she died of a blunt force trauma to the head after she had fallen and hit her head and suffered internal bleeding.

“Young suffered and succumbed from a brain bleed. Her blood pressure dropped below a hundred multiple times,” Smolen said.

Court documents say on Feb. 8, 2013, she was taken to a local hospital “after being found in distress by the staff. Ms. Young was pronounced dead after 11:00 a.m. on that day.”

“The lack of medical delivery at the jail under Wellpath, people were being tortured to death because the private medical provider served as a gate keeper and prevented people with emergency medical needs from going to the hospital and kept them in the jail,” Smolen said.

On Feb. 13, the jury trial began stemming from the family’s lawsuit against Wellpath for violating Young’s civil rights by refusing to get her the medical care she needed. Young’s family hopes the $82 million verdict stops future preventable jail deaths from happening.

“Once the jury saw how preventable Young’s death was, they wanted to prevent it from happening again,” Smolen said.

Atlanta Black Star requested a comment from Wellpath on the allegations made in the lawsuit and the jury award, but our requests were not immediately returned. Wellpath has faced litigation involving several in-custody jail deaths in recent years.

The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office told Atlanta Black Star, “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,” the Sheriff’s Office continued.

Smolen believes the settled lawsuit will begin the healing process for Young’s family which includes more than a dozen grandkids.

“It’s still unreal and the trauma from the trial has been a lot,” Young-Powell told Atlanta Black Star.  

Smolen said the jury verdict awarded $14 million in compensatory and $68 million in punitive damages. Young’s estate reached a settlement agreement for $3.6 million with Tulsa County in 2021.

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