MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The deaths of three inmates in less than three years at the Muskegon County Jail led to calls on Tuesday for state and federal investigations.
Two Muskegon County commissioners at a committee meeting pushed for a resolution to ask the state attorney general, the U.S. Attorney General’s Office and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the jail.
“Since I’ve been on the commission, we’ve had three deaths in this jail that in my opinion had subpar investigations,” Commissioner Zach Lahring said in pushing for the resolution.
“Our constitution is the supreme law of the land and we all have an oath to that and there’s repercussions when you break that oath,” Commissioner Malinda Pego said after the meeting.
She and Lahring also want the state attorney general to pursue placing Sheriff Michael Poulin on administrative leave during an investigation.
The board postponed the vote until after the Michigan State Police finishes investigating last month’s jail death.
The sheriff was quick to respond.
“Kind of headline grabbing is what’s going on here, some grandstanding,” he said after the meeting. “What they’ve done now is found a way through a resolution, which carries no weight, no direction, just to get that headline out there.”
He said that Pego and Lahring need to “understand what their roles are as county commissioners” and doesn’t know if they have the capacity to do so.
“I think it’s important to understand, I’m an elected official and my position is granted through our state’s constitution,” Poulin said.
Other commissioners also questioned the need for more outside investigations.
“What are we doing?” Commissioner Charles Nash said. “We’re just pushing for headlines. I think this is kind of getting ridiculous. Right now I think we’re getting in the middle of something that we don’t need to get in the middle of because there’s a lot of legal issues still on the table.”
This started with the April 2019 death of Paul Bulthouse, 39, after he’d suffered repeated seizures in a close-observation cell without medical help.
A Target 8 investigation, after the sheriff had found no wrong-doing, led the state Attorney General to investigate. Four guards are awaiting trial on criminal charges. It also led the county to agree to a $2.4 million out-of-court settlement with Bulthouse’s family.
In February 2020, Tiffany Davis, a 39-year-old mother of three, died of multiple brain hemorrhages after suffering for days with an infection at the jail.
Then, last month, 32-year-old Marleon Danell Johnson died after he was found unresponsive in his cell. State police are investigating.
The sheriff refused to discuss the deaths saying that “there’s investigations going on.”
Also on Tuesday, the board agreed to let county administrators work out details of a contract to pay an out-of-state company about $2 million a year for the next three years to provide medical care at the jail.
Kansas-based VitalCore Health Strategies provides health care at the Kent and Ottawa county jails. In Muskegon County, it would replace Healthwest, a county program which had taken over for Wellpath, the out-of-state company that provided health care during the deaths of Bulthouse and Davis.
Wellpath agreed to an out-of-court settlement with the Bulthouse family for an undisclosed amount.