Inmate awaited mental care bed
Public defenders tried to find treatment for Army veteran
For nearly three months before she died, Krysten Mischelle Gonzalez sat in an Oklahoma County jail cell while public defenders searched for an inpatient mental health treatment facility that would agree to accept her, the county’s chief public defender says.
Gonzalez, 29, was found unresponsive in her cell about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Jail staff performed lifesaving measures before taking her to OU Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead shortly after 5 p.m. The state medical examiner’s office has not determined a cause of death, but jail officials say Gonzalez hanged herself.
Gonzalez had been jailed since Oct. 11 on a warrant for failure to appear. The case
stems from a June 2017 incident in which an officer responding to a shoplifting call found a baggie containing 0.6 grams of meth in Gonzalez’s purse.
A U.S. Army veteran, Gonzalez stated in court papers that she had been treated in the past for posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. In November 2017, her Oklahoma County case was transferred to mental health court. As a part of that transfer, Gonzalez agreed to make regular appearances in mental health court. If she violated the terms of the agreement, Gonzalez would be subject to an automatic 10-year prison sentence.
A judge ordered Gonzalez arrested after she failed to appear in court. After her arrest, the Oklahoma County public defender’s office began looking for an inpatient mental health facility that could accept Gonzalez, said Bob Ravitz, the county’s chief public defender. That would allow Gonzalez to receive treatment rather than going to prison.
But those facilities are scarce, Ravitz said, and staffers in the public defender’s office struggled to find a bed for Gonzalez. Meanwhile, Gonzalez waited in a county jail cell.
Ravitz said he doesn’t think jail is an appropriate place for inmates like Gonzalez. At minimum, he said, Gonzalez should have been housed in the jail’s mental health ward rather than alone in a cell in general population.
“But, I don’t run the jail,” Ravitz said.
Gonzalez also had a pending misdemeanor charge in Tulsa County under the surname “Pasqualetti.” She was accused there of obstructing an officer and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Mark Opgrande, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said Gonzalez hadn’t exhibited any signs of suicide risk. Investigators will look at Gonzalez’s case to determine whether there were any warning signs that jail officials might have missed, he said.
When inmates are booked into the jail, they’re screened for suicide risk, he said. That screening program began about two years ago in response to a spate of inmate suicides, Opgrande said. The jail hasn’t seen an inmate suicide since July 5, 2017, when inmate Nhan T. Nguyen was found hanging in his cell two days after being sentenced to prison.
“We feel that those efforts have at least helped in that regard,” Opgrande said.
Gonzalez was the third inmate to die in jail custody in less than a month. On Dec. 16, inmate Sindi Spray, 24, was found unresponsive in her cell. Jail staff tried to revive her, but Spray was pronounced dead at 5:30 p.m. The state medical examiner determined Spray died of a perforated ulcer.
Four days later, inmate Larry Freed Jr., 36, died at St. Anthony Hospital, where he had been taken six days earlier to be treated for a pre-existing medical condition, the sheriff’s office reported. The state medical examiner’s office determined Freed died of septic shock due to an infection of the inner lining of the heart.
Freed was the seventh, and last, inmate to die in jail custody in 2018. That total represents a decline from 2017, when 12 inmates died in the jail’s custody, and 2016, when 15 inmates died.
Krysten Gonzalez, front, prepares to paint a hallway at the City Rescue Mission in 2014. At the time, Gonzalez was a part of a recovery program at the rescue mission. Gonzalez died Tuesday after being found unresponsive at the Oklahoma County jail.
The Oklahoma County jail is shown in this 2017 photo.