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Opinion: Challenges clearly remain for Oklahoma County jail

The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same when it comes to the Oklahoma County jail. A recent spate of inmate deaths underscores the point.

Deaths and violence inside the jail have been a problem throughout most of the building’s 30-year existence. In 2008, the U.S. Justice Department threatened to take over the jail after issuing a critical report that cited 60 civil rights violations, ranging from unsanitary conditions to violence among inmates and between guards and inmates.

Seven jail inmates died in 2018 and six deaths were reported in 2019. Last year six died, including four after jail operations became the responsibility of a newly created jail trust, instead of the sheriff.

The end of 2020 and start of this year have been particularly rough.

On the morning of Dec. 20, Juan Carlos Marquez, 35, died one day after reportedly getting hurt in a fight with a cellmate. According to a jail spokesman, staff found Marquez unresponsive in his cell. Life-saving measures began immediately but proved unsuccessful.

Marquez was set to go to trial this month for allegedly endangering others while eluding police and illegally possessing a firearm or imitation firearm. The Oklahoman’s Nolan Clay reported that investigators believe Marquez also may have snorted contraband through makeshift straws.

On Christmas Eve, an inmate held on domestic abuse charges died, apparently of a massive heart attack. Rodrick Earl Thompson, 50, had complained of chest pains and had been moved to the jail’s medical unit. Thompson died despite emergency personnel from EMSA and the fire department using a defibrillator several times before transporting him to the hospital.

This week, the jail reported its first two deaths of 2021.

On Tuesday, Michael Williams, 59, died in his cell. Williams, a rapist, was arrested in September after failing to register as a sex offender following his release from prison a month earlier. He did not have a cellmate, the jail said.

On Saturday night, Brad Leon Lane, 40, was discovered during a routine check. Authorities say another inmate, Shaquile D Shaun Brown, 27, of Chickasha, is suspected in the killing. Prosecutors had charged Brown in December with attempted robbery, aggravated assault and battery, and possession of methamphetamine. His criminal record also includes charges of assault and battery upon a police officer (twice since 2018) and assault.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is looking into this case. Members of the jail trust must do the same. While it is true that some bad and very dangerous people wind up in the jail, it’s also true that advocates for creation of the trust said they expected operations and conditions to improve. Six months later, much work remains.


Opinion editor Owen Canfield is in his 18th year writing editorials for The Oklahoman and has spent nearly 40 years in journalism. To submit a letter or op-ed, or for other issues related to the Opinion page, email him at or call (405) 475-3205. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a print or digital subscription at

Owen Canfield III

Owen Canfield has written editorials for The Oklahoman since 2003. Prior to that, he spent 19 years with The Associated Press in Oklahoma City. He is a 1981 graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He and his wife, Lori, have four children. Read more ›