ENID, Okla. — Garfield County commissioners unanimously accepted a letter from Sheriff Jerry Niles Monday morning suspending himself and all others recently indicted on charges of second-degree manslaughter in the death of a county jail inmate last year.
Niles, who said he is "innocent," is suspended with pay.
Niles was one of six people indicted on charges of second-degree manslaughter in the death of Anthony Dewayne Huff last year.
The indictments included charges for Niles; then-jail administrator Jennifer Shay Niles, the sheriff’s daughter-in-law who resigned from the jail in June 2016; then-detention officer/supervisor Shawn Caleb Galusha; then-assistant jail administrator John Robert Markus; licensed practical nurse Vanisa Jo Gay; and nurse practitioner for the jail Lela June Goatley.
Undersheriff Rick Fagan will assume all responsibilities overseeing the Garfield County Sheriff's Office. Niles said in his letter Fagan would retain that position "until it is appropriate for me to resume my position as sheriff."
Commissioners discussed the future of Sheriff Jerry Niles during an executive session Monday morning.
The agenda for Monday's Board of Garfield County Commissioners meeting included an item for the executive session "to discuss the employment and/or disciplining of Garfield County Sheriff Jerry Niles." The agenda also included an item to meet in public for "discussion and possible action" on Niles.
The agenda also included a separate executive session and possible public action concerning a federal lawsuit filed in Anthony Dewayne Huff's death. Huff died in June 2016 in Garfield County Detention Facility. No action was taken after that session.
The indictments allege that on or between June 4, 2016, and June 8, 2016, the crime of second-degree manslaughter was committed in Garfield County by each defendant. The indictments accuse each defendant between those June dates of “willfully, unlawfully and without justifiable or excusable cause the death of Anthony Dewayne Huff, in a culpable and negligent manner, by causing/allowing Anthony Dewayne Huff to remain in a restraint chair for over 48 hours without adequate food or water” while in custody.
Following the indictments on July 25, Sheriff Niles had remained on the job and said then-detention officer/supervisor Shawn Caleb Galusha and then-assistant jail administrator John Robert Markus were placed on paid administrative leave.
The indictments also included charges of second-degree manslaughter against then-jail administrator Jennifer Shay Niles, the sheriff's daughter-in-law who resigned from the jail in June 2016; licensed practical nurse Vanisa Jo Gay; and nurse practitioner for the jail Lela June Goatley.
According to court documents, Huff was pronounced dead at the jail on June 8, 2016, after he was found unresponsive in a restraint chair, according to a release from Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. The documents say he was placed in the chair for an extended period of time without proper amounts of food, water or medical treatment for his illnesses.
Huff was arrested June 4, 2016, on a complaint of public intoxication. On June 6, 2016, he was placed in a restraint chair by jail staff. Two days later, Huff was found unresponsive in the chair and pronounced dead.
On June 9, 2016, a medical examiner ruled the manner of his death to be natural causes, and the probable cause of death was due to chronic alcoholism and due to a compulsive condition from a prior disease. Other significant medical conditions listed were congestive heart failure, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, hypertension, hepatitis C and smoker, according to the autopsy report.
The second-degree manslaughter cases will be prosecuted in Garfield County by District 26 District Attorney Chris Boring, who was asked to take the case when District 4 District Attorney Mike Fields recused. Fields cited a conflict of interest because he advises the sheriffs in District 4, which includes Garfield County.
Boring’s district includes Alfalfa, Dewey, Major, Woods and Woodward counties.
The multi-county grand jury has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute criminal matters in all 77 counties. Grand jurors meet regularly when in session for two-to-three days per month to hear testimony. All proceedings are closed to the public.
The current grand jury will meet again in Oklahoma City Aug. 15 to 17 to continue work on additional cases.
A federal lawsuit was filed on June 6, 2017, accusing Garfield County officials of negligence in his death and of violating Huff’s constitutional rights. It was filed on behalf of Huff's estate by Huff's brother, James Graham.
The 23-page lawsuit lists Garfield County Detention Center, Garfield County Board of County Commissioners, Sheriff Niles, Jennifer Niles, Turn Key Health Clinics, Goatley and three John Does as defendants in the case.