3 Jefferson County Jail Officers Acquitted in Inmate’s Death

MADRAS, OREGON – A judge late Tuesday afternoon found three Jefferson County Jail corrections officers not guilty of criminally negligent homicide in last year’s death of a jail inmate.

Cpl. Anthony Hansen and deputies Michael Durkan and Cory Skidgel went on trial last week, accused by prosecutors of ignoring serious medical issues leading to the death of James Eugene Wippel, 59.

The Portland man had been arrested on drug charges in Warm Springs in April 2017 and died two days later at the Madras jail from a burst ulcer.

Crook County Circuit Judge Daina Vitolins, brought into the Jefferson County case to avoid conflicts of interest, decided the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to prove the deputies’ failure to more quickly summon medical care was the cause of Wippel’s death.

“No one was able to testify to that critical piece of evidence,” Vitolins said. “When was it too late for medical treatment to save Mr. Wippel? And did that happen when Mr. Wippel was in the care of Ms. Skidgel, Mr. Durken and Mr. Hansen? So I find you not guilty.”

The decision brought applause from many in the courtroom followed by emotional hugs of friends and loved ones. A guilty verdict could have meant a sentence of up to five years in jail.

Despite her ruling, Vitolins said she does believe the deputies failed to be aware of the serious risk of Wippel’s death.

“Their failure to obtain medical care was a gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person” would have been expected to exercise, Vitolins said.

The judge had reviewed jail video before the state finished its case and the defense began. On Tuesday, prosecutors made their closing statement, followed by the three lawyers for the corrections officers, before Vitolins issued her ruling.

The prosecutor brought in for the case, Clackamas County Chief Deputy District Attorney John Wentworth, told the judge, “If there’s nothing they could have done, if there was no treatment, if there was zero percent chance he could survive – but what if there’s a 70 percent chance, what if there’s a 60 percent chance he could survive?”

“What they did is guarantee he died by doing nothing. And that’s why this is criminally negligent homicide,” he argued.

An autopsy showed Wippel died of a burst ulcer after allegedly complaining to the officers of pain all through the night.

Prosecutors argued the officers should have known and that throwing up blood was reason enough to call in medics.

Defense attorneys argued Wippel was suffering from severe heroin withdrawal, and doctors testified he could have been bleeding internally for months before his ulcer finally ruptured.

By: Leila Eltouny

Published: December 6, 2018


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