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Sex abuse suspect dies in 5th Okla. County Jail suicide this year

23-Sep-2016

An Oklahoma City woman has become the eleventh Oklahoma County Jail inmate to die this year, and the fifth to commit suicide. Joanna Cortez, 39, was found hanging in her cell a day after her arrest, having been cleared from suicide watch.

Cortez was booked into the Oklahoma County Jail Wednesday morning on complaints of enabling child sexual abuse and possession of a controlled dangerous substance. Because of the severity of the charges against her, Cortez was initially placed under suicide watch. However, she was re-evaluated on Thursday and taken off of suicide watch. The woman was placed in a cell by herself in a medical unit, where jailers were to check on her every 30 minutes.

Reports say corrections officers checked on her at 1:37 p.m. When they returned at 2:05 p.m, they found her hanging and unresponsive in her cell.

Cortez was arrested on two counts of enabling child sexual abuse after a 17-year-old girl with autism told her grandmother that Johnny Samples, 33, had "put his private in my private. He made me hurt and bleed in my private.” The girl told her grandmother that Cortez knew about the sexual abuse and told Samples to stop, but did not report him to police or prevent such an act from occurring again. A police report indicates that the sexual abuse took place several times over a two year period. Samples is jailed on three complaints of indecent or lewd acts with a child under 16 and one count of obstructing an officer.

Enabling child sexual abuse is punishable by a maximum of life in prison. Lewd acts with a minor is punishable by 3 to 20 years in prison unless the child is under 12. In that case, it is punishable by 25 years to life.

Already this year, there have been more Oklahoma County Jail inmate deaths that in 2015 (six) and 2014 (four) combined. In June, Sheriff John Whetsel said he was taking steps to address the issue of escalating inmate deaths, including adding a nurse to the receiving area on Thursday through Sunday nights. Since then, two more inmates have died--Cortez, who committed suicide, and another woman who died earlier this month after being taken to a local hospital to give birth.

Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, who is running against Sheriff Whetsel, considers the jail deaths to be an important issue in his campaign, asking, "When is enough going to be enough?" and saying the deaths are the result of mismanagement of the jail.



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