OGDEN — The brother of a man who died while on jail suicide watch in 2017 filed suit Monday against Weber County, alleging personnel failed to treat his mental illness and botched his care after a suicidal fall.
Attorneys for Nathan Hall sued in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on behalf of the estate of Matthew Ryan Hall, who died in a hospital two weeks after the jail injury.
They allege the jail exhibited deliberate indifference to providing Hall constitutionally guaranteed medical care; that the Weber County Sheriff’s Office administration failed to adequately train staff in mental health and medical care; and that Hall was held in unconstitutionally, unnecessarily rigorous solitary confinement.
Hall had been awaiting trial for 15 months on eight criminal charges, including drug allegations and resisting police.
During his incarceration, evaluation of his mental competency to stand trial was delayed due to a backlog at the Utah State Hospital.
Nathan Hall is represented by local criminal defense and civil litigation attorneys Randall Richards and Emily Swenson, who in the suit lay out allegations against jail corrections and medical personnel.
Defendants include the sheriff at the time, Terry Thompson; the then-jail medical director, Dr. John R. Wood; three jail nurses and 10 unnamed defendants.
Thompson left office in January 2019 and the current jail administration of Sheriff Ryan Arbon replaced the previous medical team with doctors and nurses provided by a national contractor.
Lt. Joshua Marigoni, Sheriff’s Office corrections spokesperson, had no immediate comment on the suit but said a statement would be issued later.
According to the suit, Hall was put on suicide watch after an attempt to jump from a jail tier.
On Feb. 24, 2017, he repeatedly slammed his head into the cell’s brick wall for about five minutes, then climbed to the railing behind the toilet, jumping off and landing head first on the floor.
“Officers and medical staff failed to provide suicide monitoring, to provide medical observation, and-or to check vital signs” after Hall was injured, the suit said.
It alleged the guards and nurses who entered the cell “failed to diagnose (Hall’s) head injury or take simple steps to properly secure his cervical spine when it should have been obvious that he had sustained a head-neck injury.”
Wood, the jail contract doctor, the suit alleged, should have treated Hall “for his depression and suicidal tendencies ... and should have assessed whether anti-depressant medications might have been prescribed as part of his routine care and failed to do so.”
Ogden police arrested Hall in September 2015 after he allegedly scuffled with officers. In September 2016, a judge ordered Hall be committed to the state hospital for a 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 in a 2017 interview he thought 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 said. “He just snapped. He had never been suicidal. This has really been a shock to us.”
On jail video obtained by attorneys, Hall said, “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.”
He said he probably should have been out of jail already anyway.
“He’d pretty much served his time on whatever they were charging him with,” Nathan Hall said. “That also points to him not understanding things fully. I don’t think he even understood how close he was to getting out.”
A wave of deaths in county jails in 2016-17 sparked reform legislation. The Legislature in 2018 mandated annual death reporting and programs to address root causes.
Local efforts also have been implemented in the Weber and Davis county jails.
For example, Weber County earlier this month entered into a four-year, $421,000 contract with the University of Cincinnati to train local staff in helping jail inmates kick drug habits, get mental health counseling and find jobs after release.