Dad hopes suit over mentally ill son’s death in jail will spur change
Bill O’Quin sat in fear as the man across the room repeatedly shouted “Satan,” threatened to beat him, then charged.
The attacker was no stranger — it was his 41-year-old paranoid schizophrenic son David.
Bill, 69, switched on his protection: a flashlight with a stun gun attachment that produced a loud crackle and flash of blue light. The sound alone forced David into a cowering retreat. The blond-haired, blue-eyed artist learned long before to associate the alarming noise with stinging pain, having endured many shocks over the years at the hands of law enforcement officers.
Terrified, David ran downstairs and fled his father’s home in Baton Rouge’s Garden District.
About an hour later, Bill said while recently recounting the incident, his son returned.
Standing on the colder side of a locked wooden door, he begged his father to be let inside.
“I said, ‘David, I can’t help you,’ ” Bill recalled. “I can’t do anything. I can’t let you in.”
It was Feb. 13, 2013, and Bill had run out of options. He called the police and told a dispatcher that his mentally ill son was wandering around the neighborhood, off his medication in a violent state. He didn’t want to file a criminal complaint, he said. He just wanted to warn them about his son.
During the next few hours, authorities received two calls about a man walking in the Garden District, begging for food and claiming a dog had bitten him. It didn’t take long for two Baton Rouge police officers to find him. The officers reported that when they tried to talk to David, he cursed and screamed, “Allah! Allah!”
Three hours had passed since the confrontation with his father when the officers arrested David on a disturbing the peace charge and booked him into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.
Thirteen days later, David Jackson O’Quin lay lifeless on a jail cell floor after being shackled to a restraint chair for nearly 170 hours during 10 days of often violent behavior.
“I thought he was safe,” his father said. “That was a mistake, obviously.”
From creative to bizarre
David was a bright kid. He grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, with his sister Shannon and his two stepbrothers Jason and Michael McEachern.
“We spent a lot of time riding dirt bikes,” said Jason McEachern, now 40. David was the better rider, but often, Jason was just glad to be included.
“I always wanted to hang out with David and his friends because they were older and cooler,” he said.
An inventive gift-giver, David once presented his dad with a small, clear plastic box. Inside, nearly invisible white threads suspended the tail-end of a dead rat.
“He wanted to be the first person ever to give a rat’s ass,” Bill said. “As far as I know, he probably is.”
Another time, he wanted to print a photograph of his dad and place it behind a narrow frame designed to look like a stick of gum. He called it “dadgum.”
Both ideas spawned from David’s mind during his college years. The artist, who also was fluent in Spanish, graduated from the University of Texas in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in studio art. Later, he headed west to further his art studies at the University of California at Los Angeles.
It was while David was in Texas that family members first noticed changes in his behavior.
“That’s when his disease reared its ugly head,” said David’s mother, Sharon Balser, who has bipolar disorder and whose mother also suffered from the illness.
In Los Angeles, David started losing things and spending money unwisely. He refused to pay parking tickets. At times, he lived out of trucks, vans and eventually a wooden boat built in the early 1900s.
“It was bizarre behavior,” his father said.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, David’s behavior began to shift from bizarre to medically disturbing.
Helicopters and birds followed David around Los Angeles, he told his dad. Intelligence officials implanted listening devices in his brain, and then-Vice President Dick Cheney was the root of all evil. He believed terrorists wanted to mutilate him, and he often stripped naked in public.
The tales were as frequent as they were radical.
Once, Bill visited his son in the hills of Southern California. What he found surprised him.
“It was somewhat like a bunker,” the father said, describing his son’s residence.
About the size of a large dining room table, the home featured cinder block walls and no running water. A ladder descended underground to a similarly sized second level.
“I reckon if you’re an artist and you’re kind of quirky, it was probably kind of cool,” Bill joked, describing the rented residence as “marginally inhabitable.”
Confrontations in jail
During his first night at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, David stirred up trouble. He shook the bars of his cell and spit on the floor and at other prisoners as they passed by.
Recognizing he was mentally unstable, intake workers kept him apart from the general population of inmates. During much of his time in jail, guards came by his cell every 15 minutes, noting David’s demeanor during each interval in shift logs. Violent outbursts were recorded in incident reports, which, along with the logs, were given to David’s father, who has since sued over his son’s death.
Three days into his stay, a jailer found David shaking the bars of his cell. When the jailer ordered him to stop, David spat at him. He missed. The jailer still called for help to calm him down, and when the second officer arrived, he blasted David in the face with a debilitating chemical spray.
But as soon as that jailer walked away, David started “racking” the bars again, resulting in a second dose of spray.
Soon, five jailers showed up at his cell with handcuffs, leg irons, a Taser, chemical spray and a restraint chair.
One issued an order three times: Come to the bars to be handcuffed. But David stood defiantly in the back of the cell and refused. Again he was sprayed in the face.
Deputies again ordered him to come to the bars, warning that failure to comply meant he would be shot with a stun gun.
David clenched his fists and yelled “devil,” prompting a jailer to fire a Taser gun at his chest. He collapsed.
When the guards turned him over on his stomach to handcuff his wrists, David started to struggle, kicking violently and yelling, “devil.”
The deputy shot David again with the Taser, and he stopped resisting.
Jailers double-locked his handcuffs and leg irons as they strapped him in the restraint chair and put a “spit mask” on his head.
He spent the next 19 hours in the restraint chair, which by Parish Prison policy can be used “in extreme cases, only when other types of restraints have proven to be ineffective” and never as punishment.
During that time in the chair, according to the logs, David ate once and refused two other meals. He turned down several bathroom and stretch breaks. At some point, his behavior apparently improved enough for him to no longer be confined to the chair.
A nurse wrote in a medical report that David suffered from “serious psychosis” and that a referral must be passed on to “Dr. Blanche,” the prison’s chief psychiatrist.
On Feb. 18, five days after he was jailed, David once again was shaking the bars. He stripped naked and threw his clothes out of his cell. Deputies decided to put him back into the restraint chair to keep him from hurting himself or damaging jail property. As usual, David resisted.
This time, after being sprayed twice, he punched a deputy in the face, busting his lip. Three guards wrestled David to the ground and strapped him into the chair.
Bill called the jail that day, a Monday, to inform the staff that his son was imprisoned under the wrong name and age. He also told them his son had a long history of mental illness, including more than a dozen stays at mental hospitals since the early 2000s.
Searching for a safe place
It wasn’t long after the visit to the bunker that Bill O’Quin returned to Los Angeles, picked up his son and brought him back to Louisiana to have him committed at the now-closed Meadow Wood Hospital in Baton Rouge.
After three days, David was released because doctors determined he was not a danger to himself or others.
In summer 2005, David traveled to Mexico with no money and ended up jailed in a Mexican prison. Officials there realized David, who spoke fluent Spanish, was mentally ill and admitted him to a hospital.
“The Mexican hospital was not that bad,” said Bill, who haggled with Mexican and U.S. authorities to have his son returned home.
In the next few months, David spent time at the now-shuttered Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge and the now-smaller Jackson and Greenwell Springs campuses of the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System. In later years, he also was admitted to Allen Parish Hospital’s psychiatric unit and Southeast Mental Hospital in Mandeville, which closed in 2012 and reopened under private owners with a new name.
He often ended up in mental hospitals after being picked up by law enforcement officers on mostly petty crimes. Twice he was taken by police to Baton Rouge General Medical Center, most recently in November 2012.
His father went to desperate lengths trying to keep his son medicated, family members say. When David took his anti-psychotic medicine, he tended to stay out of trouble.
“Bill tried everything,” said Balser, Bill’s ex-wife. “Nothing worked. Everything he did made David mad. He didn’t want his help. He didn’t want anyone’s help.”
Bill tried but was never successful in securing Assisted Outpatient Treatment services for his son from the state. The program, established in 2008 by “Nicola’s Law,” forces mentally ill people to take their medication through court orders or else face a hospital committal.
Bill said he simply was unable to find a way to keep his son medicated — through Assisted Outpatient Treatment or any other means.
David’s sister said knowing her brother was in jail and off the streets was comforting in its own way.
“We would rather him be in jail than not know where he was because we thought he was safe,” Shannon O’Quin Wingo said as she talked about her brother’s death. “And then, when you get that kind of news … it’s like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ We thought he was safe.”
Yelling for hours
On Feb. 19, David’s sixth day in jail, Dr. Robert Blanche, the prison’s psychiatrist, visited. He described David as “floridly psychotic and probably manic.”
“He has been yelling continuously for hours,” Blanche wrote on a medical chart. “He will not eat, drink or quiet down.”
The doctor prescribed David 2 milligrams of Ativan, a drug primarily used to treat anxiety disorders, which he received through a shot in the buttocks. David also was prescribed Zyprexa, an antipsychotic drug used to treat schizophrenic and bipolar disorders, although it’s unclear from available records if he ever took any.
David spent 24 hours that day strapped to his chair, screaming for at least six of those hours, and he refused to eat.
At 9 a.m. Feb. 20, a nurse visited David to check his restraints. He had cuts on his arms and legs from the restraints tightening when he slid down in the chair, and the nurse noted he was kicking a door and constantly screaming.
Court records show David was present that day when a judge set his bail at $2,500 for the disturbing the peace count on which he was arrested. Such hearings often are held remotely through live video conferences.
On Feb. 22, David ate a breakfast of chocolate pudding, tuna and some fries.
He also was shot with a stun gun and had a spit mask pulled over his face.
“Once O’Quin stops spitting and calms down, he will be taken out of restraint chair and placed back in his cell,” a deputy wrote in a report.
He spent all but a few minutes of the next 82 hours strapped to the chair. He ate a few times and, at one point, screamed for seven hours straight.
On Feb. 25, David asked, “Will I get to come out of my restraint chair if I take my medicine?”
Later that day, a guard offered David a chance to shower. But when his restraints were taken off, David couldn’t lift himself out of the chair. He ended up sitting in it as the water washed over him.
David ate dinner that night lying on a mat on the floor of his jail cell. Shortly after midnight, a nurse told him he needed to get up and move around to increase the circulation in his legs. It’s unclear whether David did so.
About 5 a.m., a deputy yelled for him, but he didn’t budge. The deputy kicked the bars and reported David “flinched by moving his shoulder.”
Over the next couple of hours, other jail staff attempted to rouse David, but he didn’t respond.
Finally, at 7:25 a.m., a guard poked the motionless man through the bars with a broom.
Supervisors were called. Paramedics arrived and performed CPR.
But David was already dead, cold to the touch.
Officials with Emergency Medical Services, which oversees health care at the jail, have declined to answer questions about David O’Quin, as did representatives for the Police Department and Sheriff’s Office. All cited the pending litigation against them.
Bill O’Quin pledges to donate any money he might win from the lawsuit to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to fund mental health treatment.
“I’m not angry at anybody,” Bill O’Quin said. “I’m just devastated.”
He says he sued mainly to spur change in how jails handle mentally ill inmates in the hope that no one else will have to endure what he and his family did. Or die like his son did.
Coroner Dr. Beau Clark said David had a common skin infection on his legs that can cause bloods cells to clump. Though it’s unclear what caused the infection, he said, David died after blood clots in his legs dislodged and settled in his lungs.
Like all autopsy reports, David’s spelled out his death in flat, clinical terms.
Cause of death: Bilateral pulmonary emboli, due to venous thrombi of lower legs, due to focal venous inflammation, due to cutaneous bacterial infection.
Contributors: Schizophrenia requiring physical restraint.
Manner of death: Natural.