In just a few weeks, John Brasco was set to go to trial against two officers and their supervisor who were accused of torturing him while he was previously incarcerated by playing the song “Baby Shark” on loop for hours at a time. On Thursday, Sept. 8, Brasco was booked into Oklahoma County Jail on new drug charges — and by early Sunday morning, he was dead.
A cause of death has yet to be given, but Mark Opgrande, director of communications for the jail, confirmed to Rolling Stone that they’re looking into an overdose as part of their investigation. “We rely on the Medical Examiner to give us the official cause of death,” he said, adding that this process might take months.
But the overdose theory doesn’t add up to Basco’s lawyer Cameron Spradling, who says that Basco appeared to be in good health at age 48. In fact, the lawyer says he finds the timing of his client’s death suspicious. “Two plus two doesn’t make four,” he tells Rolling Stone. “It was very fortuitous to this jail and those detention officers that John Basco’s dead. … There is a criminal case and a federal civil rights case pending against three former detention officers, including a longtime lieutenant. One of the ‘Baby Shark’ Torture Victims is conveniently dead within three days of his arrival.”
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is currently assisting in the investigation, but Spradling wants District Attorney David Prater to send in his own investigators, which the lawyer thinks would be more expeditious. “He lost his most important witness for the upcoming criminal trial,” he says. “The D.A. needs to find out why this victim/witness died under these mysterious circumstances.” Prater did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.
In 2020, Prater charged two officers, Christian Charles Miles and Gregory Cornell Butler, Jr., along with their supervisor, Christopher Raymond Hendershott, with misdemeanor cruelty charges for an unusual form of punishment they inflicted on Basco, Ja’Lee Foreman, Jr., Daniel Hedrick, and Joseph “Joey” Mitchell. The officers allegedly tortured each man on separate occasions by handcuffing him in a stress position in a small room where the children’s song “Baby Shark” blasted on repeat for hours. Hendershott allegedly did nothing to stop them. Lawyers for the officers did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.
“You hear something like that over and over again, it drives you, you know what I’m saying, to the point that you want to scream. Like, what are you doing this for?” Basco said in a 2021 interview. The practice of playing music at loud volumes on repeat was famously used in Guantánamo Bay to break Iraqi prisoners.
“Butler… confirmed that he used the booth as a means of punishment,” an investigator wrote in an affidavit filed in the case. “The playing of the music was said to be a joke between Miles and Butler.”
The two officers resigned, and their boss retired. “It was unfortunate that I could not find a felony statute to fit this fact scenario,” Prater said at the time. “I would have preferred filing a felony on this behavior.” The inmates later filed a civil suit against the officers, as well as the Oklahoma County Sheriff, the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, and the Board of County Commissioners for Oklahoma County.
The state’s case against the three former jail employees was set to kick off on Sept. 21 with a status conference and a motion hearing. (The civil lawsuit was stayed until that case wraps.) Basco was arrested on Sept. 8 on new charges, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by Rolling Stone; there was no warrant, according to the document, which was filed after the arrest on Sept. 9. “Usually you have a probably cause affidavit that is on file first, which gives the officers the authority to seek out the individual,” Spradling says. “So that was unique to me.” Moreover, since no charges had been filed yet, Basco could not be bonded out, which left him in jail over the weekend. “They chose to take him on Thursday and to not file charges on Friday. That bothered me,” Spradling added.
At 10 a.m. on Sunday, Basco’s sisters called Spradling, wailing, with the news that Basco was dead. “I liked him. I’m just really sad that this happened,” Spradling says, his voice breaking. “If I just had until Monday, I could have got him out of there.”
“Our sympathies are with Mr. Basco’s family and loved ones,” Opgrande wrote in a statement to Rolling Stone when asked about the timing and manner of Basco’s death. “We can confirm there were no obvious signs of foul play. Additionally, we would like to note Mr. Basco’s lawsuit was against the previous jail administration, not against the Oklahoma Country Criminal Justice Authority or the current leadership.”
Basco was the 14th inmate to die at Oklahoma County Jail in 2022.