ENID, Okla. — Former Garfield County jail administrator Jennifer Shay Niles was sentenced Tuesday to 55 hours in Alfalfa County Jail after pleading guilty last month to an amended charge of second-degree manslaughter in the death of inmate Anthony Dewayne Huff in June 2016.
Niles was given a six-year deferred sentence and was ordered to pay a $1,000 assessment in lieu of a fine, pay $250 to the victims' compensation fund, pay costs and fees, and to have 24 months of supervision.
Niles pleaded guilty March 11 to the amended count of second-degree manslaughter. Jailers John Robert Markus and Shawn Caleb Galusha also entered their pleas March 11 before Texas County District Judge Jon Parsley.
Parsley released Niles on a recognizance bond until she can serve her time in Alfalfa County. He also ordered her to have a Rule 8 hearing, to arrange payment for the ordered fines and costs, by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Galusha entered a plea of no contest to his amended charge as part of a deal with prosecutors. He received a three-year deferred sentence, was ordered to serve 55 hours in Alfalfa County Jail, pay a $1,000 assessment, $250 to the victims compensation fund, $25 jail costs and all other court costs.
Anthony Dewayne Huff died in June 2016 while he was incarcerated at Garfield County Detention Facility.
Markus pleaded guilty to his amended charge of second-degree manslaughter and received a four-year suspended sentence and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, $250 to the victims compensation fund, $25 jail costs and all other court costs.
Niles entered a blind plea with a recommendation from the state. In a blind plea, there is no set deal with prosecutors and the judge sets punishment. After stating her plea of guilty, Niles began to cry.
Niles, Galusha and Markus were charged in February 2018 with felony first-degree manslaughter in Huff's death. A preliminary hearing was held Aug. 7-10, 2018, and the three were bound over for trial. Sheriff Jerry Niles, who also was charged with manslaughter, was not bound over for trial.
The four were initially indicted in 2017, following the convening of a grand jury. Indictments handed up by the grand jury included the four and two nurses, Vanisa Jo Gay and Lela June Goatley, who were working at the jail at the time of Huff’s death.
The indictments were unsealed July 25, 2017, and each was charged with a single felony count of second-degree manslaughter. The indictments were dismissed in December 2017, when Chris Boring, District 26 district attorney, who was appointed to prosecute the cases, announced his intention to refile them as criminal charges. Charges were dropped against Gay and charges were not refiled against Goatley.
'System of nepotism'
Parsley heard arguments Tuesday from Boring and Niles' attorney John Hunsucker. He also heard testimony from a counselor, a reverend who has worked with Niles and Niles herself. Huff's brother, James Edward Graham, read a victim impact statement for the court from the Huff family.
Graham addressed the court, holding a box with his brother's ashes inside, as he read aloud the statement.
"To this date, we truly don't know know why our brother, and a citizen, was placed in a chair," he read. "This is what vitriol looks like. This is what hate looks like. This what a system of nepotism looks like."
Graham said if those who were truly responsible for the jail cared about the actions of his family and what happened, they would not be in this situation.
"Unfortunately, this is the result," Graham said. "My bother sitting in this box."
Graham said on the day of his brother's funeral, he made a promise he would get him the justice he deserved.
"Hopefully, we won't let him down," Graham said.
Hunsucker called the Rev. Dave Jones, of Waukomis Christian Church, to testify on Jennifer Niles' behalf. Jones said he was a critical stress debriefer and also served as chaplain for Waukomis police and fire departments.
Jones said he has known Niles for about five years and has been counseling her for the past three. He said she came to him seeking "emotional counseling."
Hunsucker asked Jones to describe her demeanor.
"Jennifer has the structured presence police officers are trained to have," Jones said.
Hunsucker asked Jones if he believed Niles had accepted her responsibility.
"Totally," Jones said.
Jones said Niles had not made any excuses. Hunsucker asked Jones if the court could punish Niles any worse than she had herself.
"She's already doing worse to herself than any judgment could do," Jones said.
Hunsucker called Niles to testify.
She said at the time of Huff's death she was a deputy for Garfield County but was responsible for the jail.
Hunsucker asked her if she regretted ordering Huff be placed in the restraint chair.
"Yes," Niles answered, and began crying.
He asked Niles if her children knew about what had occurred and what she told them happened.
"Mommy told them that when I worked at the jail I made the decision to place a man in the restraint chair ... and that I didn't check that he got out. I told them that he died," Niles said.
Niles also testified she told her children she may go to jail.
Upon cross examination, Boring asked Niles why Huff was placed in the restraint chair.
"I put him in the there because he was banging on the doors, kicking the doors and hitting his head on the wall," Niles said.
Boring asked Niles if she was aware Huff was an alcoholic, calling him a "frequent flyer" at the jail.
"I had seen his name on our roster before, yes," she said.
"It was unknown to you he had alcohol issues," Boring asked.
"To me? Yes," Niles said.
Referencing intake forms for inmates, Niles said, "If they don't fill out the form, what can we do?"
Boring asked Niles if she would agree with him that Huff's death was preventable.
"I don't know," she said. "I don't know."
Huff 'got the death penalty'
In his closing argument, Boring said video from the jail shows the extent of abuse Huff suffered as he was left in his own urine and feces, a food tray placed in his lap but his hands still restrained.
"They let him out of the restraint chair when he was dead," Boring said. "There was food on the floor. There was urine on the floor. The stench was terrible. We still have to remember, Anthony Dewayne Huff was arrested on public intoxication and he got the death penalty.
"The injustice done to Mr. Huff was so grave," Boring said. "Quite frankly, I believe the system let Mr. Huff down."
In his closing, Hunsucker said he was bothered with this case at times.
"It is clear Ms. Niles has accepted her responsibility," he told the court.
Hunsucker said he took issue with an LPN who perjured herself at preliminary hearing and was never charged. He said Niles ordered Huff be placed in the restraint chair and never checked on him but said she has taken responsibility.
Hunsucker said those more responsible than Niles pleaded no contest to their charge of second-degree manslaughter.
Boring said in his second closing that Associate District Judge Ryan D. Reddick, who heard the preliminary hearing, summed up the case the best.
"This case makes me mad. This case is sad. Just sad," Boring said. "If one person would have done something, we might not be here today."
Parsley told those in attendance before issuing the judgment and sentence he had thought long and hard about the case, perhaps since it was filed.
He apologized to the Huff family for their loss but said retribution against Niles did not represent justice.
Parsley said there was no malice or evil intent in Niles' actions. He also said Niles had no prior criminal history, which was a rarity for such as serious case.
"Her actions were negligent," he said. "Ms. Niles has accepted her inaction that led to Mr. Huff's death."