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Atoka County settles case of man who died of pneumonia in jail

The Frontier

Authorities jailed Michael James Hoeppner under suspicion of drunk driving in March 2019. He wasn’t intoxicated but suffering from a treatable illness.

Atoka County agreed to a settlement of $3.2 million after a man died of pneumonia in the county jail.

Atoka County will pay over $1 million of the settlement. A pooled self-insurance fund for the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma will pay the rest, but an exact amount hasn’t yet been determined, a representative for the association said.

The settlement will raise property taxes in Atoka County, but the exact amount won’t be known until later this year, according to the County Assessor’s office.

Michael James Hoeppner, 60, died of pneumonia at the Atoka County jail less than 24 hours after he was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated in March 2019. There were no traces of drugs or alcohol in his body, according to the medical examiner’s report.

The Frontier first reported on Hoeppner, a long-haul truck driver from Wisconsin, in 2019. A Tushka police officer pulled Hoeppner over for swerving across lanes on U.S. Route 69. Hoeppner appeared disoriented and short of breath in police body camera footage the news outlet obtained.

A police officer took Hoeppner to a local hospital for a blood draw to test for alcohol in his system. Hoeppner was then booked into the Atoka County jail. Another prisoner found him dead the following day.

Hoeppner’s brother, Karl Hoeppner, filed a federal lawsuit in 2020, naming officials from Atoka County, the Tuska Police Department and the hospital as defendants. Tulsa Attorney Daniel Smolen represented Karl Hoeppner in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed that Hoeppner continued to display “obvious signs of a serious and emergent medical need, including disorientation, confusion, fatigue, dizziness, loss of balance, shortness of breath, coughing, complaints of chest pain and nausea” in the hours after he was booked into the Atoka County jail. Jailers did not seek medical attention for Hoeppner and failed to monitor his condition, the lawsuit claimed.

Atoka County Sheriff Tony Head was the only remaining defendant of the lawsuit after the judge dismissed the others from the case.

Head and his attorney didn’t return The Frontier’s request for comment.

Karl Hoeppner couldn’t be reached, and Smolen didn’t respond to The Frontier’s request for comment.

The Frontier is a nonprofit newsroom that produces fearless journalism with impact in Oklahoma. Read more at www.readfrontier.org.
The Frontier is a nonprofit newsroom that produces fearless journalism with impact in Oklahoma. Read more at www.readfrontier.org.