Muskegon Co. agrees to $2.4M settlement over inmate seizure death

Target 8

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A Muskegon County commissioner puts the blame squarely on Sheriff Michael Poulin for conditions that led to the death of an inmate in 2019 and to a $2.4 million settlement.

“At this point, there’s no charges filed against the sheriff, but it was his policies that weren’t being followed and he allowed it,” Commissioner Zach Lahring told Target 8.

The Muskegon County Board of Commission voted 5-2 Tuesday for the $2.4 million federal court settlement with the family of Paul Bulthouse.

The county will pay $250,000 of the settlement; its insurance company will pay the rest.

Bulthouse was 39 in April 2019 when he died in the Muskegon County Jail. He was being held on a probation violation.

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 at least 17 seizures in a close-observation cell without getting medical help.

The video showed one guard watching a seizure then walking away.

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

One of the votes against the settlement came from commissioner Lahring, but not, he said, because he thought Bulthouse’s family didn’t deserve the money.

“Because I think there’s a lot of evidence that needed to come out and it’s not going to come out in the settlement,” he said. “I think people need to be held accountable for their actions in this case.”

The Target 8 investigation led the Muskegon County Prosecutor to ask Attorney General Dana Nessel to handle the case.

The AG then charged four guards and a nurse from Wellpath, the out-of-state company that provided medical care, with involuntary manslaughter.

They are expected in court in July to determine if they will face trial. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.

Court records identify them as Jeffrey Patterson — the guard who watched the seizure — Crystal Greve, Jamall Lane, Sgt. David Vanderlaan and registered nurse Aubrey Schotts.

The guards are still working for the jail.

Marcel Benavides, the attorney for the Bulthouse family, said he questions whether change will happen as long as the sheriff is in charge and the guards are still working there.

However, Target 8 has learned that the county has refused to renew its contract with Wellpath. It had paid the Tennessee-based company about $1.4 million a year.

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.

A federal lawsuit from Bulthouse’s family against Wellpath is still pending.

Lahring told Target 8 he has watched the video of Bulthouse’s death several times.

“It was disgusting,” he said. “Personally, I believe there’s more than manslaughter that should be issued, and I believe there’s some policy issues in the jail that have been allowed to go for a number of years unattended to.”

Target 8 reached out to the sheriff, but he did not respond to a request for an interview.

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