Ogden inmate not given IV, died of dehydration in Weber jail, attorney says

Sunday , February 19, 2017 - 12:56 AM4 comments

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Supporting a $300-a-day heroin habit got too expensive for Marion Herrera.

Police arrested the 40-year-old Ogden woman on a check forgery allegation, and she died 3 ½ days later while withdrawing from the street drug in the Weber County Jail.

Investigative documents obtained with an open-records request detail Herrera’s stay at the jail, which began at 4:24 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, 2016, when South Ogden police had her booked for allegedly cashing a $763 forged check at a credit union. She was pronounced dead after she was found unresponsive in a medical cell at 3:18 a.m. Sunday, May 22.

RELATED: Claim filed over woman's death in Weber County Jail

Herrera was one of several to die in recent years at a Northern Utah jails, apparently due to medically related issues. Still more die by completing suicide. The deaths have called attention to the plight of people jailed with medical conditions, drug addictions or prescription medicine needs who may become more at risk during incarceration. 

Michael Studebaker, an attorney representing Herrera’s relatives, said Friday he is preparing a wrongful-death lawsuit against Weber County. He contends the jail was negligent and did not provide sufficient care to an inmate undergoing cold-turkey heroin withdrawal.

An autopsy performed at the state Medical Examiner’s Office showed no obvious cause of death, Weber County Sheriff’s Office investigative reports say. Toxicology tests were ordered, but results were not included in the released documents. Sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Nathan Hutchinson said Friday that Weber County Attorney Chris Allred withheld the documents, citing an open records law prohibiting such information from being released to anyone other than next of kin, the person’s doctor and legal representative.

Studebaker said a state-issued death certificate provided by Herrera’s family lists the cause of death as “probable cardiac arrhythmia disturbance due to dehydration due to prolonged (drug) withdrawal.”

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A crime scene investigator’s report said Herrera was put into the jail’s general population May 18 but was moved into the medical unit the next day “for heroin detox treatment and liquid diet restrictions that needed to be monitored.”

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The sheriff’s initial incident report concluded, “All preliminary indications are that the inmate died of medical complications and that there was no criminal act or suicidal behavior that precipitated the death.”

Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Pledger, who headed the investigation, said in a supplemental report that Herrera told a nurse “she had been using heroin every day for three years and had never suffered withdrawals like this before.” The nurse said she told Herrera to stay hydrated and gave her water and broth.

Hutchinson said in an interview that each inmate is screened within two hours of arrival for medical or mental health issues.

“Most of that is going to require their cooperation,” Hutchinson said. “If they (addictions) are disclosed, there are specific procedures for each category of opiates, barbiturates, whatever, to treat that particular drug withdrawal,” adding that could include medications to ease withdrawal.

The jail doctor and nurses develop a treatment plan based on symptoms and severity, Hutchinson said.

In medical cell 1, Herrera was given an anti-nausea medication at 6:50 p.m. Saturday, May 21, after she had vomited, and a nurse encouraged her to keep sipping fluids, Pledger’s report said.

At 11:30 p.m., a nurse reported Herrera was lying on her back in a “boat bed” on the cell floor. “She appeared to be sleeping with no signs of distress and looked to be breathing,” the nurse said.

Herrera was dead at the next check, 3:18 a.m.

Investigators’ reports gave no indication Herrera was given withdrawal-easing medications. Hutchinson said the sheriff’s office would not comment specifically about Herrera’s medical treatment.

Nurses placed a cardiac monitor on her but detected no heartbeat. The woman’s right hand was raised — rigor mortis. 

“With other obvious signs of death, no attempts at resuscitation were made,” the report said.

Pledger reported that Stryofoam cups full of beef and chicken broth and liquid jello were found next to Herrera’s head. Other cups with broth and jello powder were found by the cell door. 

Sheriff’s investigators later consulted Allred about the case. He declined to participate in further investigation because of the apparent “natural cause of death related to medical complications,” the sheriff’s report said.

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Detectives interviewed two inmates who shared Herrera’s cell for part of her stay. Geraldine Donald was asked if Herrera mentioned any medical problems or pain.

“Just sick from doing heroin,” Donald said, according to a transcript. “She explained she was scared about the withdrawals. She was agitated. Red in the face.” 

Donald said Herrera told her she was using $300-$400 of heroin a day.

“She said she wished she was dead rather than going through the withdrawals,” Donald said.

Inmate Katie Jo Crabb was asked whether Herrera was “behaving normally.”

“Definitely not,” Crabb said. “Claiming seizures but not having them. Wanted me to get out the shower because she (expletive) herself. Then she said she would sleep in it.”

Patsy Medina, Herrera’s mother, told detectives her daughter had a serious drug problem and was in “overall poor health from the years of drug use,” documents said.

Medina said Herrera called to say she was going to jail and said “don’t come see me right away” because she did not want her mother to see her go through withdrawal. She said her daughter recently went to the hospital for treatment of boils caused by infection from heroin injections.

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Detectives reported Herrera made two phone calls from the jail. One was a short conversation with her husband, Joe Herrera. The other was to a bail bonds company, which declined to arrange bail for her.

Studebaker said Friday he’s working on the lawsuit, having not heard back from the county, neither in response to a notice filed last summer of intention to file suit, nor his request for investigative records. Studebaker said he filed formal open records requests to obtain the documents but has not received anything. The Standard-Examiner used the same methods to request the same information and was sent some of the investigative materials. 

“They were negligent,” he said. “I find it interesting they are going to ignore us.”

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Herrera should have received more than broth, Studebaker said.

“There’s this magic thing called medical,” he said. “They can give her an IV instead of hoping to get her to take it (liquids) or die.”

Hutchinson said jail medical personnel gave “the best treatment that they could,” adding the staff is “dealing with people whose health has never been a priority.”

READ MORE:

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You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.

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