OGDEN — A Disability Law Center attorney on Monday, April 17, challenged assertions that a jail inmate who died after a paralyzing fall had been faking mental illness.
In letters to the 2nd District Court, Utah State Hospital staff said last fall and again this spring that they suspected Matthew Ryan Hall, 31, of “malingering” — faking or exaggerating mental health problems. Hall was on suicide watch when he broke his neck Feb. 24, Weber County Jail officials said. Hall died April 7 at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City.
“We think if he was on suicide watch that shows he probably wasn’t faking it,” Disability Law Center attorney Nick Daskalas said in an interview. “We do know he wasn’t getting the level of care he needed.”
Daskalas’s advocacy group in 2015 sued the Utah Human Services Department in U.S. District Court, alleging dozens of criminal defendants who need mental health evaluation and competency restoration treatment were languishing in county jails because of a backlog of admissions to the State Hospital.
“Unlike the State Hospital, jails aren’t therapeutic and are not able to provide the level of care needed,” Daskalas said. He called Hall’s death “another example of why individuals who are acutely mentally ill need more therapeutic care.”
Ogden police arrested Hall in September 2015 on eight charges after he allegedly scuffled with officers. In September 2016, a judge ordered Hall be committed to the State Hospital for competency evaluation. His attorney had requested the evaluation, saying Hall’s mother had said her son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Nathan Hall, of Ogden, said he thinks his brother died because his mind finally snapped after 15 months of incarceration.
“I think they had him in solitary so long he had a breakdown,” the elder Hall, 34, said. “He just snapped. He had never been suicidal. This has really been a shock to us.”
Matthew Hall also leaves behind his mother, Diana, and two children, Matthew Jr., 10, and Haze, 4.
“He could not have been kept in jail much longer,” Nathan Hall said. “He’d pretty much served his time on whatever they were charging him with. That also points to him not understanding things fully. I don’t think he even understood how close he was to getting out.”
He said the family’s attorneys told them Matthew Hall was put on suicide watch after he climbed atop a railing and threatened to jump off the cell block tier. That occurred during one of the hours he was let out of solitary confinement, the brother said.
Nathan Hall said his brother had a history of delusions, “tripping on things that a lot of times weren’t there.”
“He never would admit to having the problem, but he did,” Nathan Hall said.
Matthew Hall was able to talk to his family before he underwent surgery in the wake of the accident, his brother said. “But after surgery he was unable to talk and was on a ventilator.”
The man still tried to communicate but wasn’t coherent, Nathan Hall said.
“We were trying to talk to him, but I’m really bad at reading lips,” he said. “This is really like the worst type of thing you could go through.”
Nathan Hall said it appeared jailers were at least clumsy in their care of Matthew after he was injured. On jail video obtained by the Disability Law Center, “they were moving him all over the place, and you don’t do that with someone who has a head injury or neck injury. ... They didn’t properly brace him and had him sitting up against the wall and wrapped his head.”
Nathan Hall also condemned the state.
“I blame the mental hospital for not being able to accommodate the needs of the community,” Hall said. “A lot of people like my brother get stuck in solitary. and having the mental health issues he had, it was the worst thing for a person like him.”
Daskalas said his group’s suit against the state is on hold “as the parties are looking at possible routes to settle.”
“Some of our class members were ordered to the custody of (the State Hospital) more than eight months ago, but are still on the waiting list and are still in jail,” added Erin Sullivan, another Disability Law Center attorney.
In court documents, state attorneys have argued that an outreach program started by the State Hospital in 2014 has begun to cut into the case backlog. Mental competency evaluators from the hospital visit inmates at the local jails to address their competency. The screening determines if an inmate can be treated by outreach or should be referred to inpatient care at the State Hospital.
State policy also says if an inmate being screened “is demonstrating ... extreme high risk such as suicidal behaviors,” the state hospital’s forensic director “considers prioritizing admission to the USH regardless of chronological placement on the referral list.”
Matthew Hall apparently never got to that final option of the screening process.
“We believe that the Utah State Hospital's Outreach Program in its current form is not a substitute for competency restoration services,” Sullivan said in an email. “It remains our position that our class members are not receiving actual treatment under the outreach program.”