Questions raised after jail inmate's death
The family of a 37-year-old Lawton woman is looking for answers about her death in November following a stay in the city jail.
Martina Minthorn-Callahan and more than a dozen supporters and family members appeared at Tuesday's Lawton City Council meeting. Minthorn-Callahan said she has received information from several witnesses to the moments that led to the death of her niece, Christina Tahhahwah, who was hospitalized following a Nov. 14 incident at the city jail. Tahhahwah died at a local hospital on Nov. 17, Minthorn-Callahan said.
"I stand before you humbly on behalf of my niece, Christina Tahhahwah," Minthorn-Callahan said. "Unfortunately, she was taken from us last month."
Minthorn-Callahan said she believes Tahhahwah died as a result of being Tasered multiple times. Police Chief James Smith declined to comment on her death because the medical examiner's office hasn't completed its work, but a police spokesman denied that Tahhahwah was Tasered.
An incident involving thrown milk at Tahhahwah's grandparents' house on Nov. 13 caused her to be jailed for trespassing. Minthorn-Callahan told The Constitution earlier that her niece had been staying at the home for approximately two weeks. According to the police report from the incident, Tahhahwah had "become angry and agitated and started throwing objects around," and when she refused to leave the property, was arrested on a charge of trespassing.
Minthorn-Callahan said Tahhahwah suffered from bipolar disorder and had recently stopped taking her medication. She said police were called to assist Tahhahwah to get back on her medication and be taken for medical treatment but, instead, she was jailed.
Nov. 14 death
According to the police report from Nov. 14, Tahhahwah was in her cell and "possibly dead" shortly after 1 p.m. when emergency medical personnel and firefighters attempted to give her CPR and revive her. She was later admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital and put on life support. Minthorn-Callahan said the family wasn't notified until almost 2 a.m. Nov. 15 over 12 hours later. While there, the family was told by several people who came to the waiting room that Tahhahwah was repeatedly Tasered for not following an order to stop singing Comanche hymns.
Minthorn-Callahan said a friend of her husband was in the jail at that time and was singing with Tahhahwah until an unidentified jailer told them to stop and threatened to have their bonds revoked.
Autopsy results pending
Minthorn-Callahan said that Tahhahwah was autopsied by the state medical examiner and the family had a private autopsy conducted as well. The results from the private autopsy aren't available yet. She said she was told by medical staff that there was no clear cause of death.
Lawton police information officer Capt. Craig Akard said Tahhahwah was not Tasered and that she was found unresponsive in her jail cell. Emergency procedures were attempted and emergency medical personnel were called, he said.
"The medical examiner was contacted and we are awaiting their report," Akard said. "This appears to be an unfortunate incident."
According to the Taser website, the units record every user action, including the time, date and duration of each engagement. Requests for the police department's Taser logs for the day and for the jail security video have been made and police said the requested information will be available.
"Our policy is not to comment until we get all the information back from the medical examiner so we can find out precisely what the cause of death was," Smith said.
The state Medical Examiner's Office has not responded to a request for information from The Constitution.
With the statements from others clashing with the official reports from the incident, Minthorn-Callahan said the family is simply seeking the truth by requesting an investigation conducted by an outside agency. She also asked that police protocol regarding mental health issues be scrutinized and possibly improved.
"The truth needs to be known," she said.