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Oklahoma inmate who sued over alleged 'Baby Shark' torture tactic is found dead in his cell

John Basco was one of four inmates who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last year alleging that jail officers used discipline tactics described as “torture events.”
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An Oklahoma inmate who alleged in a lawsuit that jail staffers tortured detainees, forcing them into stress positions while playing the song "Baby Shark" for hours, was found dead in his cell.

A detention officer performing site checks found John Basco unresponsive around 3:50 a.m. Sunday, Oklahoma County Detention Center officials said in a news release.

Medical personnel were called and performed lifesaving efforts, but Basco, 48, was pronounced dead just after 4 a.m. His family has been notified, the release said.

A cause of death was not revealed, and detention center officials did not immediately reply to a request for comment Tuesday.

Basco was one of four inmates who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last year alleging that jail officers used excessive force and discipline tactics the lawsuit described as "torture events."

The Oklahoma County Detention Center
The Oklahoma County Detention Center in Oklahoma City.Google Maps

Named as defendants were Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson III, the Board of County Commissioners, the jail trust and two former jail officers.

According to the suit, Basco and inmate Daniel Hedrick were forced to stand in a stress position while listening to "Baby Shark" at different times in late 2019.

Another inmate, Joseph Mitchell, was pulled from his cell in November 2019 and placed in a room where he was forced into a "standing stress position" for three to four hours while he was handcuffed behind his back, the lawsuit said.

Officers then played "Baby Shark" on repeat so loud "that it was reverberating down the hallways," the lawsuit said.

Inmate Ja’Lee Foreman Jr., according to the court filing, was not forced to listen to the song, but he was placed in a stress position and later was kneed in the back and slammed into a wall by one officer and spat on by another.

The inmates, who were pretrial detainees at the time, posed no threat to officers, the lawsuit said.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater charged two former jail employees and their supervisor with misdemeanor cruelty in October 2020.

Prater was quoted in the lawsuit as saying that the practice of playing "Baby Shark" — a children’s nursery song that exploded in popularity in 2019 — as a form of punishment was "cruel and inhumane" and that it put "undue emotional stress on the inmates who were most likely already suffering."

Then-Sheriff P.D. Taylor said the jail employees who were charged resigned and their supervisor retired.

The lawsuit is pending. A U.S. district judge in July stayed an additional federal lawsuit from the inmates until the criminal case against the jail employees concludes, with the next hearing scheduled for Sept. 22, The Oklahoman reported.

Cameron Spradling, an attorney for Basco, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In a Twitter post, he said his client's death was "mysterious" and noted that Basco was the 14th inmate to die at the jail this year.

"I mourn the loss of my client John Basco, a Baby Shark Torture Victim, who died today in the custody of the Oklahoma County Jail. The worst jail in the world!" he tweeted.

Basco died less than a month after another inmate died by suicide on Aug. 19, according to jail officials. Three inmates died at the jail in July, jail news releases said.