FARMINGTON — An expert witness says two outside law enforcement agencies may hold some responsibility for what ultimately happened to a man who died of a drug overdose several hours after he arrived at the Davis County Jail.
The witness, hired by Davis County to help defend against a civil lawsuit, says other agencies’ decisions deprived the jail staff of “critical information” about Gregory Hayes’ level of intoxication when the man was brought in for booking the evening of Dec. 13, 2017.
A Clearfield police officer who arrested Hayes, and a state probation and parole officer who had talked to Hayes on the phone and then met him at the jail for booking, could have given more details about what pills the man may have taken, said Donald L. Leach II.
Leach, a corrections consultant from Lexington, Kentucky, absolved jail deputies and medical personnel of fault in Hayes’ death and also said jail policies were adequate for the care of intoxicated inmates.
Instead, he pointed to Hayes’ failure to disclose everything he had taken, and the Clearfield and state officers’ failure to fill in the jail’s intake deputy about what they knew or suspected about Hayes’ ingestion of drugs that night.
“It seems evident that (the jail booking officer) was hamstrung in providing timely access to a secondary medical assessment for potential drug overdose,” Leach concluded.
The suit was filed by Hayes’ mother, Susan Johnson of Layton, in 2018 in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. It accuses the county of violating the 33-year-old Hayes’ civil rights by not providing him with constitutionally adequate medical care.
Clearfield and Utah Adult Probation and Parole are not named as defendants in the suit.
Hayes was at his brother Andrew’s house when he learned his estranged wife was dating another man. He then took Clonazepam, a sedative, Suboxone, a drug addiction medication, and some Tylenol PM sleeping pills, according to the lawsuit.
Andrew called Clearfield police, asking for an ambulance to take Hayes to a hospital. Before an ambulance arrived, a Clearfield officer got there and asked Hayes if he wanted to go to the hospital or back to jail. Hayes had just been released after spending two months in jail.
The suit said Hayes told the officer he did not need an ambulance. The officer took Hayes to the Farmington jail and the man was booked at 7:53 p.m. A state probation officer also was aware that Hayes had taken drugs and that the ambulance had been canceled, according to Leach’s report.
But both of those officers were there at the booking and neither informed jail personnel that an ambulance had been called and canceled and that Hayes may have taken multiple medications, the report said.
As a consequence, it said, jail deputies and nurses were aware only of intoxication symptoms Hayes began exhibiting during the booking process, according to the report.
“These were affirmative actions on the part of the arresting officer and the probation officer that deprived the jail of critical information regarding Mr. Hayes’ level of intoxication and-or multiplicity of drugs within his system,” Leach wrote.
In a court deposition, a jail nurse who saw Hayes that night testified that the jail would have refused to accept Hayes had personnel known an ambulance had been waved off, and would have sent him to a hospital for evaluation.
“We would have sent him out if we’d known,” said the nurse, Daniel Layton. “If there was any indication that he needed an ambulance, we would have done that.”
“Critical medical information about Mr. Hayes potentially taking a dangerous amount of drugs was withheld from jail staff conducting the intake processing,” Leach wrote in his report. “Without this vital information, custody staff” was left to evaluate Hayes based on what he told them and their own observations.
According to jail incident report documents, Hayes told the booking deputy he had taken some Clonazepam and two Tylenol PM but did not reveal he had taken Suboxone.
Another county-hired expert witness, Dr. Kennon Tubbs, said the state medical examiner found drug levels in Hayes’ blood “were not extremely elevated.”
“It is likely that Hayes experienced a compounding effect of multiple medications he was taking and was susceptible to an overdose at a lower level of Clonazepam when combined with Tylenol PM and Suboxone,” wrote Tubbs, who runs the medical operations in several Utah and Wyoming jails.
“It is evident that poly substance abuse is an ever-increasing cause of death,” Tubbs added. “In Hayes’ case, he mixed multiple medications and made multiple choices which limited Davis County’s ability to care for him.”
Earlier, expert witness documents filed by Johnson’s attorneys faulted the jail staff for allegedly neglecting to adequately monitor Hayes in the early morning hours of Dec. 14, 2017. He was found unresponsive at 5:30 a.m. and died later at a hospital.
“The jail staff admitted a patient who was medically compromised without any medical screening and then planned to watch him closely in an unmonitored setting,” wrote the witness, Dr. Ken Star, an expert in emergency medicine.
Tubbs, meanwhile, cited one factor in the jail’s defense:
“It is common in Utah jails to not have nursing at the booking or intake process,” he said. “Officers are commonly tasked with doing intake screening questions on intoxicated patients. This is not a deviation from the booking process.”
However, Davis County’s new sheriff, Kelly Sparks, decided last year that such a system is less than ideal. He reconfigured the booking area so incoming inmates are first checked by jail nurses, before they enter the booking process.
Sparks said in an interview last fall that arrestees are more likely to be truthful about drugs they have ingested when they are screened by a nurse rather than a uniformed deputy.