MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Paul Bulthouse’s brother has watched the surveillance video that shows his only sibling dying over the course of more than four hours in his Muskegon County Jail cell in April 2019.
It has given him nightmares but he said it’s important to show exactly what the jail ignored.
“If you are a human being with the slightest bit of a soul in you, how can you not respond when you see a man convulsing in a cell in his own urine, absolutely red in the face?” Jeremy Bulthouse said Friday.
He said his family is outraged after the four Muskegon County Jail guards pleaded no contest Thursday to willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor, and were sentenced to 100 hours of community service and $1,000 fines. The guards’ defense attorney said his clients agreed to the offer made by the Attorney General’s Office.
“I was dumbfounded,” Bulthouse’s brother said. “To me, it’s just inconceivable how you can do such a thing and get what is not even a little bump on the wrist.”
The original charge, involuntary manslaughter, carried up to 15 years in prison.
“For me personally, it doesn’t feel bring closure,” Jeremy Bulthouse said.
The family also questions why the guards continue to work at the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department.
“It doesn’t seem like the Muskegon County Jail is too concerned, at least those in leadership,” Jeremy Bulthouse said. “It doesn’t seem to make a difference to them.”
Muskegon County Sheriff Michael Poulin could not be reached for comment Friday.
Paul Bulthouse, 39, who was in jail on a probation violation, died in a close observation cell without medical care while suffering as many as 18 seizures. Surveillance video shows guards didn’t check on him as required.
The sheriff originally found no wrongdoing, which the Bulthouse family called a cover-up, but a Target 8 investigation brought the Attorney General’s Office into the case, leading to criminal charges.
The death led to out-of-court settlements for Bulthouse’s family: $2.4 million from the county and an undisclosed amount from Wellpath, the out-of-state company that provided medical care at the time.
In an email, Marc Curtis, the guards’ defense attorney, blamed Wellpath, saying his clients were “performing their duties with the utmost honor.”
“How can you state that the jail guards performed their duties with the utmost honor when they failed to perform their duties?” Jeremy Bulthouse responded. “If they had done their duties, without a doubt, I believe my brother would still be here today because he would have gotten the medical care that he needed.”
He said they would be talking hockey and the NHL playoffs.
“That was kind of the highlight of the year for us,” he said. “I just can’t call him up now and say, ‘Hey, Paul, what do you think about this series between the Maple Leafs and the Lightning right now?'”
He said his family is glad to see the death has led to change at the Muskegon County Jail, including a new medical provider and guards now wearing body cameras and microphones, and that it could lead to more changes statewide. In a press release, Attorney General Dana Nessel said her office is working with the Legislature for more sweeping statewide changes, including requiring jail correction staff to meet accreditation standards, strengthening consequences, including termination, for when jail correction staff do not meet or violate those standards; and creating a list of convictions that would prohibit a person from serving as jail correction staff.
Bulthouse’s brother said he has questions for the sheriff:
“Why are you still allowing these four people to work in your jail when they clearly have demonstrated that they do not possess the ability to do what a reasonable and a prudent person would do in circumstances like this? Secondarily, why did you say there was no wrongdoing when the evidence shows otherwise?
“I’m gravely concerned for the well-being of the other inmates that are there right now,” he said.