Jail deputies going to trial in Muskegon inmate’s death

Target 8

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Four Muskegon County Jail deputies are going to trial after an inmate died on their watch in 2019. The case against a former nurse has been dismissed.

The third day of preliminary hearing for five Muskegon County jail employees focused on whether and how frequently the staffers should have checked on an inmate who died after suffering multiple seizures.

Sgt. David VanderLaan, Jamall Lane and Crystal Greve Jeffery Patterson are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the April 2019 death of Paul Bulthouse, 39. Former jail nurse Aubrey Schotts was also part of the preliminary hearing.

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

Their preliminary hearing was initially scheduled to last two days. Instead, testimony into a third day Thursday and closing arguments didn’t begin until after 5 p.m.

The day started with hours of questions from state prosecutors, who are trying to show that under jail policy, the deputies on duty should have been checking on Bulthouse every 15 minutes because he was on suicide watch.

Muskegon County Undersheriff Ken Sanford, the only witness for the day, was on the witness stand for hours, watching side-by-side video of deputies working and Bulthouse suffering seizures in his cell. An assistant attorney general worked to emphasize that the deputies were not checking on Bulthouse and never made note of his condition in their reports.

“The evidence presented, including the medical records from (medical contractor) Wellpath indicate that Paul was on high observation and thus should have been actively monitored with notations every 15 minutes,” Assistant Attorney Melissa Palepu said. “The video evidence also clearly demonstrates that this did not happen and the testimony was that no notations were made, even when Paul was noticeably in distress and the deputy defendant observed that distress.”

Attorneys for the defense argued that Bulthouse was not on high observation status, so deputies would not have to check on Bulthouse every 15 minutes. They also say checking on Bulthouse should have been on mental health staff. 

At the end of the preliminary hearing, the judge decided there was enough evidence to send the four deputies to trial but the case against Schotts, the former jail nurse, was thrown out.

While an initial internal investigation from the sheriff’s office found no wrongdoing, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office took up the case after a Target 8 investigation that included surveillance video showing one of the deputies, Patterson, watching a seizure and then walking away.

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