FARMINGTON — Former Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson acknowledged under questioning in a court deposition that various inmate screening and medical care policies apparently weren’t followed the night Gregory Hayes died.
In hundreds of pages of documents filed April 14 in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, attorneys for Hayes’ mother and young son ask for a judgment that the jail violated his constitutional right to adequate medical care while in custody.
Meanwhile, however, attorneys representing Davis County and Richardson are seeking dismissal of the civil suit, asserting with voluminous documentation that the county performed adequately and Hayes’ death was his own fault.
The new Davis sheriff, Kelly Sparks, who took office in 2019, has expanded jail inmate screening and medical care. But the lawsuit delves into the status of the jail when Richardson was in charge and Hayes died in a holding cell early on the morning of Dec. 14, 2017.
Layton resident Susan Johnson’s suit is part of a surge in death litigation against Utah jails following a record 25 deaths in 2016. At the Davis jail, seven deaths occurred in 2016-17.
According to court records, Hayes, 33, was arrested in Clearfield on the evening of Dec. 13, just hours after he was released from the Farmington jail following a two-month stay.
About 12 hours later he was dead, having been put in a holding cell during the booking process because he was showing signs of substance use.
Jail policy said inmates who are intoxicated should not be admitted to the jail until cleared by a doctor, and that an inmate showing signs of intoxication or other medical distress should be checked every 15 minutes.
In his deposition, Richardson said 80% of people being booked “have things on board that are an intoxicant.”
Added a booking sergeant in her deposition, “If we stopped every booking because (an inmate) was intoxicated, we wouldn’t book anybody.”
The defense said Hayes was able to walk on his own and answer questions when he arrived at the jail. He even mugged for the camera as his parole officer was recording his arrival and blew him a kiss, the defense said.
But Tad Draper, one of Johnson’s attorneys, told Richardson during the May 19, 2019, deposition that a while later, Hayes began having trouble understanding and obeying jailers’ commands and once fell asleep as he was being talked to.
There had been no medical evaluation by then, and Hayes was put into the holding cell to “sleep it off,” the plaintiffs said.
Richardson said, “Well, that does concern me, because the policy is every person gets (medically) screened prior to coming in.”
“And we don’t see any indication of medical screening here, do we,” Draper asked.
“I don’t,” Richardson answered.
There is no record in the jail log of a 15- or 30-minute medical watch ordered on Hayes, Draper said.
“Yeah, I haven’t seen anything” in the records to that effect, the ex-sheriff said.
“Greg was not on a medical watch, was he,” Draper asked Richardson. “He was just up there.”
“Not that I know of,” Richardson answered.
In 2017, jail deputies conducted the initial screening of inmates and called in jail nurses if needed. If an inmate was obviously severely impaired, they were turned back over to the arresting officer to be taken to the hospital.
A Davis jail nurse who was on duty that night and checked on Hayes at about 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. because he was breathing irregularly, testified in a deposition as well.
He said he would have sent Hayes to the hospital had he known the amount of drugs the man had taken and that the arresting officer had initially canceled an ambulance call for Hayes.
In the defense’s request for dismissal of the suit, it noted that Hayes failed to tell the booking officers that he had taken buprenorphine, an opioid withdrawal medication. He told them he had taken the anti-anxiety drug clonazepam and Tylenol PM, a sleep aid.
Until Dec. 13, Hayes had been in jail for two months on drug charges. He had a long history of addiction.
When he was released, the jail returned to Hayes the bottles of prescription buprenorphine and clonazepam he had when he was jailed.
Then Hayes found out his wife was seeing another man. He apparently took an unknown number of pills from those two bottles, plus the sleep aid, and some olanzapine, an anti-psychotic.
Hayes’ brother called police out of concern for his health. Police asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital but he refused, which meant he would be returned to jail on a parole violation due to intoxication.
“Standing alone, however, the dosages of Buprenorphine and Clonazepam taken by Hayes would not have been fatal,” the defense document said.
“The jail staff monitored Hayes’ condition and treated him for what they reasonably perceived was sleep apnea,” it said. “Hayes failed to appropriately notify the jail’s custody and nursing staff of the drugs he had taken, which resulted in his death.”
The defense also disputed the state medical examiner’s report on Hayes’ death. The ME concluded Hayes died from mixed drug toxicity involving his consumption of buprenorphine, clonazepam and olanzapine.
The ME report was silent about his use of Tylenol PM. But two expert witnesses for the defense said the sleep aid certainly contributed to the death.
Still, Johnson’s attorneys zeroed in on the overall operational situation that night.
The jail has a written policy that says “inmates displaying signs of drug, alcohol abuse, or withdrawal should not be accepted until they have been seen and cleared by a physician.”
But in 2017 the jail did not follow that policy, they contended.
“These inmates are not seen or cleared by a physician prior to admission, nor are they seen or cleared by a nurse,” the plaintiffs’ document says. “Instead, intake deputies with no medical training are tasked with screening inmates displaying signs of drug use or withdrawal.”
After inmates are admitted, they “are not provided with medical monitoring as required by jail policy and national standards,” according to the plaintiffs. “This practice was highly likely to result in inadequate care, and it ultimately was responsible for Gregory Hayes’ death.”
Judge Dee Benson has yet to schedule a hearing for arguments on the motions.