Warning: The video included above may be disturbing to viewers. Discretion is advised.
MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A Muskegon County Jail deputy watched through a cell door window as an inmate suffered one of the 17 seizures that led to his death, according to a Target 8 review of surveillance video obtained from the jail.
After watching the seizure suffered by inmate Paul Bulthouse, the jail deputy walked away.
Bulthouse, 39, died two and a half hours later on April 4, naked and alone in his cell and in a puddle of his own urine.
A jail nurse who had checked on the inmate earlier that morning never checked on him again, records show.
The autopsy shows Bulthouse died of status epilepticus, or seizures.
“He’s in a life-or-death crisis here. You’ve got people glancing into the window, watching like a peep show, and then walking away,” said licensed professional counselor Elizabeth McCarthy.
“We don’t treat other human beings like that,” she continued. “I don’t care what someone’s done. They’re still a human being.”
McCarthy, a psychotherapist from Royal Oak who helps ween patients from drug dependency, watched the jail surveillance video with Target 8.
Target 8 initially filed a public records request with the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office for surveillance video of Bulthouse’s alleged escape attempt three days before his death, but the department’s response said the video didn’t exist.
Target 8 filed a follow-up request for that escape video and the video of his death after both videos were described in Bulthouse’s autopsy report. The jail then released the videos.
INMATE NOT WATCHED CONSTANTLY
Target 8’s review of the video appears to show the jail violating Michigan Department of Corrections’ rules for jails and lock-ups. Bulthouse was being held in a detox cell, which means he was supposed to be watched closely. MDOC rules require unobstructed supervision and observation of the entire detox cell, either from a 24-hour guard station or through cameras that are “continuously monitored in the officer’s duty station.”
It’s clear in the video that deputies were not continuously watching the video screen.
In fact, a deputy wrote that Bulthouse “could be seen on the camera system,” but that the “computer that shows all the cameras … is not directly visible by staff.”
The deputy wrote that from where he was sitting, “I had to turn around in order to see the cameras.”
Sheriff’s reports also list 21 times that guards and nurses checked on Bulthouse the morning he died, most of those by looking through his cell window.
But Target 8’s review of the video shows no sign of two of those checks, and several of the so-called “window checks” were quick, over-the-shoulder glances as a guard or nurse walked by.
“If they’ve got a constant monitor on him, why isn’t anyone watching this? What’s the purpose of monitoring?” said McCarthy, the psychotherapist who watched the video with Target 8. “How do you turn a blind eye for four and a half hours?”
MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz said the state prison system inspects county jails once a year to make sure they have proper policies and procedures in place, but doesn’t investigate whether the jails are actually following them. The MDOC doesn’t investigate individual incidents, he said.
Gautz said the Muskegon County Jail was in full compliance during the last inspection in 2018.
The FBI investigated a similar death at the Macomb County Jail in 2015, though that did not lead to criminal charges.
FBI special agent Mara Schneider, a spokeswoman from the Detroit office, said she wasn’t aware of the Muskegon County death but planned to “pass it along to our Grand Rapids office.”
Muskegon County Sheriff Michael Poulin refused to comment, citing the possibility of a lawsuit.
Bulthouse’s family attorney, Marcel Benavides, said “deliberate indifference” by the sheriff’s department led to the death.
“Their acts are criminal and those of a third world nation penal institution,” he wrote in an email to Target 8. “The Muskegon Sheriff’s Department will surely be held accountable for this senseless death.”
JAIL WITHHOLDS CRITICAL DRUG
Bulthouse was locked up March 22, 11 days before he died, for a probation violation. He had been put on probation for possessing child porn.
Before he was jailed, Bulthouse was on Klonopin, a benzodiazepine, prescribed by his doctor to treat the after-effects of an ephedra overdose years ago.
“He had high blood pressure and if his blood pressure got high, he would have an irregular heart rate, and he had a lot of anxiety, a lot of social anxiety,” his physician Dr. Ruth Walkotten told Target 8.
His doctor had sent a list of his meds to the jail, but says she had no idea jail policy doesn’t allow inmates to take Klonopin, a drug similar to Xanax and Valium.
The American Addiction Centers says quitting Klonopin without consulting a doctor is dangerous, can lead to hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, seizures and death.
“You can’t stop cold turkey,” his doctor said. “It’s a very strong medication.”
Jail records show they were treating Bulthouse for alcohol withdrawal, not Klonopin withdrawal. The jail doctor prescribed him Librium, a benzodiazepine, for five days after he was locked up, records show.
Deputies had moved Bulthouse to a one-man detox cell because his hallucinations were bothering other suicidal inmates.
Three days before he died, Bulthouse had run from his cell, leading to criminal charges of assault and escape.
A jail sergeant noticed his leg shaking after guards tackled him, but, according to jail reports, dismissed it after a jail nurse said he was faking a seizure — the first of several they believed were fake.
THE FIRST SEIZURE BEFORE DEATH
The sheriff’s report said that Bulthouse suffered 15 apparent seizures over three and a half hours the morning he died.
But a Target 8 review of the video with the psychotherapist shows 17 seizures spanning four and a half hours.
McCarthy, the psychotherapist, said the seizures were “depriving the brain of oxygen, potentially, so potentially causing brain damage.”
The first seizure was at 12:58 a.m., with no deputies at the guard station just feet from Bulthouse’s cell door.
“Notice the abnormal posture,” McCarthy said while watching the first seizure. “That’s a grand mal right there.”
Then there was another about two minutes later.
More than once, Bulthouse urinates.
“So he loses control of his bladder and they still do nothing?” McCarthy said.
A JAIL DEPUTY WATCHES
Bulthouse’s urine was already pooling on the floor next to him at 2:52 and 44 seconds that morning when another seizure started with a twitch of his left arm.
Video from a camera in his cell clearly shows him in Detox Cell HD13, naked after shedding his anti-suicide smock.
Another surveillance camera shows the view outside his cell.
It’s a bad seizure, so bad that Bulthouse is turning red.
He’s still seizing at 2:54:16, still thrashing about, according to the view from inside his cell.
That’s exactly the time that the jail deputy walks by, stops, then watches through Bulthouse’s cell window.
For the next 11 seconds, the deputy watched through the window as the seizure continued, according to the videos. The deputy walked away when the seizure ended.
McCarthy, the psychotherapist who reviewed the video, said the jail should have taken action, “thrown him in the ambulance and gotten him to the hospital.”
She said that could have saved Bulthouse’s life.
The more McCarthy watched the video, the angrier she got.
“Anger, outrage,” she said. “How could you be so dismissive and negligent?”
While the jail deputy’s written report and the sheriff’s final internal investigation both list the 2:54 a.m. window check, neither mention that Bulthouse was seizing at the time. In fact, investigators wrote they discovered he’d been seizing while replaying the surveillance video.
The seizures continued for the next two and a half hours, a dozen of them, often 10 to 12 minutes apart, each lasting a little more than a minute.
MINUTES FROM DEATH
At 5:30 a.m., the video shows Bulthouse suffering his last seizure, another violent one.
“God,” McCarthy said while watching the video. “Poor man.”
The videos show two deputies at the nearby guard station carrying on a conversation as Bulthouse’s breathing slows.
The time stamp on the video reads 5:34:30 as Bulthouse takes his last breath.
About 45 minutes after the death, a deputy opened the door to Detox Cell HD13 and nudged Bulthouse’s right foot.
“It kind of leaves me speechless,” McCarthy said. “I’m so… It’s just plain wrong. It’s just wrong.”