ME: Muskegon jail inmate would have lived if given seizure treatment

Target 8

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Four jail guards and a former jail nurse will have to wait to learn if they’ll stand trial in the death of a Muskegon County Jail inmate.

After the second day of what was supposed to be a two-day hearing, District Judge Geoffrey Nolan decided there would not be time to wrap it up on Friday.

The hearing is set to continue on Oct. 14.

Earlier in the day, Wayne County’s chief medical examiner testified that inmate Paul Bulthouse would still be alive if he had been treated while suffering repeated seizures at the jail.

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

Dr. Carl Schmidt was a key witness in the case filed by the state Attorney General against the guards and former nurse, who are charged with involuntary manslaughter in Bulthouse’s death in April 2019.

The hearing is to determine if they’ll stand trial. It started Wednesday.

Schmidt testified that he watched eight hours of surveillance video of Bulthouse’s death and reviewed the autopsy report.

On Friday, he watched again in Muskegon County District Court as some of the 22 seizures suffered by Bulthouse in a close-observation cell played on TV screens.

Schmidt said he disagreed with the original autopsy report, which deemed the death natural.

“I think a case could be made for either indeterminate or homicide,” Schmidt testified. “When you consider the time span over which the seizures occurred and that there were multiple seizures, I think had he been treated, he’d be alive today.”

Charged in the case are Sgt. David VanderLaan, Jamall Lane, Crystal Greve and Jeffery Patterson, along with former jail nurse Aubrey Schotts.

If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.

The death of Bulthouse led to an internal investigation at the jail. Muskegon County Sheriff Michael Poulin found no wrong-doing.

But a Target 8 investigation that included surveillance video from the jail led the state AG to take a look at the case.

The county of Muskegon has agreed to pay the Bulthouse family $2.4 million to settle a federal lawsuit. Wellpath, the out-of-state company that provided health care at the jail, also has agreed to an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount.

The assistant AGs are building a case that the guards violated jail policies, including those that require frequent monitoring of inmates in close-observation cells.

They say Bulthouse was on suicide watch, but Undersheriff Ken Sanford testified that wasn’t clear.

However, records show that Bulthouse had been placed on suicide watch and hadn’t been cleared by mental health professionals to be removed, as required.

In that case, guards should have checked on him every 15 minutes, according to policy. Records show that did not happen.

In fact, according to Target 8’s investigation, guards didn’t find him dead in his cell until 45 minutes after surveillance video shows he died.

State prosecutors also questioned why guards waited days to file reports about Bulthouse’s death, violating policy that requires reports immediately.

Bulthouse was locked up March 22, 11 days before he died, for a probation violation.

Deputies moved him to a one-man detox cell because his hallucinations were bothering other suicidal inmates, records show.

A Target 8 investigation revealed that Deputy Patterson, one of the accused guards, watched through a cell door window as Bulthouse suffered one of those seizures, then walked away.

Bulthouse died two and a half hours later, after suffering about a dozen more seizures, naked and alone in his cell and in a puddle of his own urine.

Schotts, the accused nurse, had checked on Bulthouse earlier that morning, but never checked on him again.

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