Last-minute objections delay hearing for suspects in inmate’s death

Target 8

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The Muskegon County Jail guards and nurse charged in the death of an inmate two years ago appeared in court together for the first time Wednesday.

But the hearing in Muskegon District Court meant to determine if they would stand trial in the death of 39-year-old Paul Bulthouse never really got started.

Instead, defense attorneys accused the state Attorney General’s Office of withholding documents and other evidence or waiting until the last minute to share them.

“I’m not asking for adjournment,” attorney Melissa Meyers said. “I’m asking for disclosure of possible exculpatory evidence that is in their possession without gamesmanship being played.”

They also argued against allowing a key witness, Wayne County Chief Medical Examiner Carl Schmidt, to testify online.

“He needs to be here in person and be cross-examined by us in person,” defense attorney Marc Curtis said.

District Judge Geoffrey T. Nolan was clearly frustrated.

“It seems like this is a very, very late objection and it seems to be more of a delay tactic than anything,” he told defense attorneys.

But he agreed to delay the hearing until Sept. 22 and 24.

Assistant Attorney General Melissa Palepu denied withholding evidence.

“I’ll tell you about the games everybody’s been playing with me on sending emails saying they don’t have something,” she told the judge. “I tell them exactly where it’s located, then there’s no response. Asking them if they need something, no response. I have never encountered this level of unprofessionalism. Everything I have, they have.”

Jail guards Sgt. David VanderLaan, Jamall Lane, Crystal Greve and Jeffery Patterson, along with former jail nurse Aubrey Schotts, are charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Bulthouse after he suffered 22 seizures in the jail in 2019. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.

The AG filed charges in April of this year in response to a 2019 Target 8 investigation into the death.

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

Sheriff Michael Poulin first announced the death was natural and that there was no wrong-doing, but Target 8 obtained surveillance videos and autopsy reports that showed differently. They showed Bulthouse died after suffering the seizures in a close-observation cell without getting medical help. The video showed Patterson watching a seizure then walking away.

The AG’s office said Bulthouse  was on suicide watch and should have been checked every 15 minutes.

Target 8 also learned that the jail had cut off the medication that was meant to keep Bulthouse from suffering seizures.

The county has already agreed to pay Bulthouse’s family $2.4 million to settle a federal lawsuit.

The family’s federal lawsuit against Wellpath, the Tennessee-based company that provided medical care at the jail, is still pending. Schotts, a registered nurse, worked for Wellpath.

After the Target 8 investigation, the county refused to renew its $1.4 million-a-year contract with Wellpath.

The company has faced 1,400 federal lawsuits over deaths and allegations of poor care at jails across the country.

Care is now being provided by HealthWest, a county program.

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