They died in anonymity, these three local men whose lives ended after they went to jail.
And even after the Utah Legislature passed a law this year mandating a thorough accounting of jail-related deaths, county officials still do not list Matthew Hall, Ashley Jessop and Max Toledo as part of the toll.
The Weber and Davis county sheriff’s offices traditionally have not counted as official in-custody deaths the cases of some inmates who were injured or became ill inside the jail — if they later died at a hospital.
Lawmakers, alarmed by a record 25 or more deaths in county jails during 2016, passed Senate Bill 205 in March this year. It requires counties to submit annual reports of jail deaths to the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice “so that the state may oversee the inmate health care system.”
It spells out that jails must count those out-of-the-building deaths.
However, in their first annual reports, recently submitted, the Weber and Davis jails still didn’t count three deaths that were never reported as official jail deaths but which became known to the public after surviving relatives went to news media.
“This is kind of the problem were dealing with, the games they’re playing,” said state Sen. Todd Weiler of Woods Cross, who sponsored SB 205. “It doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Asked about the Hall and Jessop deaths not being reported, the Weber County Sheriff’s Office‘s jail spokesman, Lt. Joshua Maragoni, said, “The sergeant that compiled the deaths says the deaths did not occur at the jail. She was told to leave them off the report by the state.”
Weiler pointed out the state law does, in fact, require the hospital deaths be included in the counts. The applicable section of the law reads:
“In-custody death” means an inmate death that occurs while the inmate is in the custody of a county jail.
“In-custody death” includes an inmate death that occurs while the inmate is:
(A) being transported for medical care; or
(B) receiving medical care outside of a county jail.
Hall, who was on suicide watch, died in 2017 in an Ogden hospital several weeks after he dived into a cell wall, suffering a severe neck injury.
Jessop died in a hospital in 2016 after being found unresponsive in a jail cell.
Davis County reported five jail deaths in 2016 on the state report but omitted a sixth, that of Toledo, whom authorities said hanged himself in his cell. He died several days later at a Bountiful hospital, according to a Farmington Police Department investigative report.
The Davis County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about why Toledo’s death was not reported.
“We put that in the bill exactly because of this problem,” Weiler said of the reporting requirement.
For years, counties have been required to submit annual jail death reports to the U.S. Justice Department, but the federal agency does not mandate reporting of inmates who die later in a hospital.
“Maybe the feds don’t require it, but it does with the state report,” Weiler said. “They need to go back and check the law. They’ve been doing it this way for so long and getting away with it.”
He added, “There’s a new sheriff in town. They’re just not aware of it or used to it yet.”
Weiler said he didn’t consider it a flagrant violation, but rather it’s an issue of “change takes a while.”
He said he expects the justice commission will work with the counties on the reporting process. The agency is compiling an overall report to submit to lawmakers in November.
Of the major Wasatch Front counties, Salt Lake reported the most jail deaths in 2017, four, according to documents obtained with public records requests.
Box Elder and Utah counties reported they had none, and Davis reported one, the death of Gregory Leigh Hayes, who was found unresponsive from an apparent drug overdose in the intake area.
Kim Cordova, justice commission executive director, said Wednesday most of the counties have submitted their reports and the process is going smoothly.
Along with the death counts, counties are required to include information about causes. Suicide was the most common cause, according to records, followed by natural causes and drug-related issues.
The counties also were required to inform the state of policies and procedures covering the handling of intoxicated or drug-addicted inmates, and the care provided inmates who are withdrawing from narcotics.
Further, Senate Bill 205 ordered the establishment of a group to study substance abuse treatment in the jails.