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Weber County Jail heroin withdrawal death lawsuit to be dismissed

By Mark Shenefelt standard-Examiner - | Jul 20, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY — A civil rights lawsuit over the heroin withdrawal and dehydration death of an Ogden woman in the Weber County Jail will be dismissed.

An attorney representing the estate of Marion Herrera and her husband, Joe, filed a motion Thursday in U.S. District Court stipulating that both sides agree the suit should be ended.

Police arrested the 40-year-old woman on a check forgery allegation in May 2016, and she died 3 ½ days later while withdrawing from heroin.

The suit said the jail “exhibited a shocking degree of deliberate indifference and reckless disregard for the evident medical needs of Marion Herrera.” Further, the Weber County Sheriff’s Office had defective policies that contributed to her death, the complaint said.

But Frank Mylar, an attorney representing the county, said Thursday undisputed facts gathered during the litigation showed Herrera’s side failed to demonstrate constitutional violations occurred.

“I don’t take away that this was tragic,” Mylar said. “But there are a lot of tragic situations that are not law enforcement’s fault.”

In a March motion seeking summary judgment against the suit, Mylar argued the record showed Herrera received constitutionally adequate care and no deliberate indifference was shown by employees or revealed in the agency’s policies.

“Some of these cases are not as easy as they seem when they first come out,” Mylar said Thursday. “This was not a negligence case. Negligence is a lot easier to prove, but in a constitutional claim, a higher level (of evidence) is needed to prove that. Sometimes the facts don’t pan out and are not what people claimed.”

Michael Studebaker, Joe Herrera’s attorney, declined to comment about the dismissal. Efforts to contact Joe Herrera were unsuccessful.

Investigative documents obtained with an open-records request detailed Marion 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.

Photo supplied
Herrera family


Studebaker said in 2017 that a state-issued death certificate provided by Herrera’s family listed the cause of death as “probable cardiac arrhythmia disturbance due to dehydration due to prolonged (drug) withdrawal.”

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.”

The suit blamed the death on alleged indifference by the defendants in failing to ensure Herrera stayed hydrated during her jail stay. The jail offered no medication to ease withdrawal symptoms, it said.

The county responded that the plaintiff “cannot show that any Weber County employee was deliberately indifferent to (Herrera’s) serious medical needs, and therefore, cannot show any underlying constitutional violation.

The woman “received medical care the entire time she was incarcerated, and nothing in the record shows anything approaching deliberate indifference,” the county added.

The suit named Weber County and the sheriff at the time, Terry Thompson, as defendants.

Three other federal suits remain active regarding other deaths in Northern Utah jails in 2016 and 2017.

Scrutiny of a wave of deaths in county lockups in 2016 resulted in passage of state legislation to begin monitoring deaths and causes.


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