MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Nearly a year and a half after four Muskegon County Jail guards were charged with the death of an inmate, the inmate’s family is still waiting for justice.

Paul Bulthouse, 39, died in the jail in April 2019 after suffering repeated seizures in a close-observation cell without getting medical help.

Court officials now say the separate trials for the guards won’t start until next year, in front of a new judge, because Muskegon County Circuit Judge William Marietti, who’s been overseeing the case, is retiring.

The guards — Sgt. David VanderLaan and deputies Jamall Lane, Crystal Greve and Jeffery Patterson —  are charged with involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.

Bulthouse was locked up on a probation violation.

An undated courtesy photo of Paul Bulthouse. (The Bulthouse family)

The Attorney General’s Office took on the case in response to a Target 8 investigation that uncovered surveillance video showing Bulthouse suffering repeated seizures in a close-observation cell without getting medical help. The AG’s office counted 18 seizures.

COVID-19 caused some of the courtroom delays, even as defense attorneys fought behind the scenes to dismiss the case.

But defense attorney Marc Curtis blamed the AG’s Office for some of the delays, saying it was slow to turn over medical records. He said the AG’s office waited until two weeks before the scheduled trials in June to turn over documents critical to the case.

The AG’s office refused to comment.

Defense attorneys argued that the jail’s private medical provider was to blame, not the guards.

“The deputies are not trained medical professionals,” Curtis said. “The jail contracts with  third-party individuals, Wellpath at that point, to provide guidance and assistance to those deputies in making decisions about people’s health. Those deputies relied on those Wellpath employees in making those decisions.”

But the judge recently disagreed, finding evidence the guards either witnessed or were in a position to witness seizures and did nothing to help.

“The pathologist testified that (Bulthouse’s) need for medical assistance would be apparent to anyone observing his seizures,” the judge wrote. “He rendered an opinion that, had he been provided the appropriate medical intervention for the multiple seizures, this man would have survived.

“The trier of fact can conclude that the defendants knew of the risk from the very fact that it was obvious. The forensic pathologist’s testimony would support a finding that the risk in this case was obvious,” wrote the judge.

In one case, the judge wrote, video shows Deputy Patterson looking into the cell as Bulthouse suffered a seizure. Still, no medical help.

“What doesn’t come out and will come out is that Deputy Patterson goes into medical and talks to one of the Wellpath nurses at that point, and then returns back to his duties,” Curtis, the defense attorney, said.

Among other defense motions: That the AG not be allowed to call Bulthouse’s grandmother as a witness to identify him, fearing it would unfairly appeal to the jurors’ emotions. The judge denied that request.

But the judge did agree with defense attorneys that the AG’s office could not identify Bulthouse as a “victim” during the trial.

“This is a case where the defendants are contesting that a crime was committed. There is no victim if there is no crime,” the judge wrote. “Since the defendants are presumed to be innocent, the People will not be permitted to reference the deceased as a victim,” the judge ruled.

The judge denied a defense request that jurors not be shown video recordings of seizures that were not witnessed by the guards. “Whether or not defendants observed seizures is one of the critical questions of fact in the prosecution,” the judge wrote. “It is relegated to the jury to determine whether or not the defendants actually observed a seizure.”

“The fact that the decedent can be seen lying in a pool of urine is admissable,” the judge ruled.

The death led to out-of-court settlements for Bulthouse’s family — $2.4 million from the county and for an undisclosed amount from Wellpath, the out-of-state company that provided medical care at the time.

The guards remain free on bond and continue to work at the Muskegon County Jail.