Two guards from the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s staff were indicted a few months back. They are accused of violating the civil rights of Christopher Beckman, age 36, by beating him to death, more specifically of using excessive force on him.
Detention office Justin Mark Isch and deputy sheriff Gavin Douglas Littlejohn are facing a possible death penalty under this indictment in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. Unless the Attorney General decides to seek the death penalty, the defendants will face life imprisonment or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
An autopsy of Beckman’s body showed he died from blunt force head trauma severe enough to cause brain swelling. The medical examiner reported, “After extensive investigation, no consistent reasonable explanation for the decedent’s injuries has been proposed….The manner of death is considered homicide.” Beckman died two days after his struggle with the two now-indicted jailers.
The indictment claims Isch used Beckman’s heat to open a steel door and Littlejohn repeatedly struck Beckman about the head and face. The Oklahoma County Sheriff fired both men when the indictment was unsealed. The Sheriff’s office issued a statement that read, “The OCSO is disappointed that these two former employees have found themselves in this situation.”
Notice how that statement puts a distance between the Sheriff and these two employees now as “former employees?” They were certainly employees at the time of the death. And notice the use of the passive voice about the men “finding themselves in this situation? No mention of any wrongdoing, alleged or otherwise. No mention of regretting the death, much less the alleged act of murder. No mention that still another person has had his life taken while in the custody of the Oklahoma County Sheriff, this one making it more than 40 in number since January 2000. No wonder the federal government moved all its prisoners out of that jail.
For whom should a criminal defense lawyer identify here? Ordinarily, but not necessarily, the criminal defense lawyer can identify with the person accused by the authorities. But here, the criminal defense lawyer is observing the accused who are former jailers, accused of killing an accused who was awaiting trial.
Christopher Beckman died May 28, 2007, at St. Anthony’s Hospital. The state medical examiner’s office reported the death as a homicide in June, 2008, and the indictment followed eight months later. Defendants Isch and Littlejohn have not yet come to trial on the indictment.
At the time of the death, sheriff’s spokesman Mark Myers claimed Beckman suffered his injuries during a seizure while being transferred from his cell to a medical wing. Myers said he was being taken from the second floor to the first “when he fell face first to the floor and began convulsing.” Then, Myers claimed, Beckman became “combative with officers at that point and suffered several cuts to his face.” Myers said there was a video recording of the incident and said “at no time is there any evidence that any detention officers struck the victim.”
Obviously the Sheriff’s complete denial at the time of death was not enough to overcome the medical examiner’s report that concluded there was no possible way the victim could have died from anything but a homicide. Obviously, the United States Attorney believed the medical examiner rather than the Sheriff.
Beckman was taken at the time to the medical wing of the jail, where he stopped breathing. A doctor at St. Anthony’s Hospital wrote in this report that Beckman arrived at the nearby hospital, having been in cardiac arrest for 20 minutes according to the paramedics. Beckman was in jail facing charges of Driving Under the Influence, Possession of Controlled Dangerous Substances, Driving Under Suspension, and Failure to Show Insurance.