FARMINGTON — A federal judge has rejected a Layton woman’s claims that Davis County is civilly liable for her son’s death by drug overdose in a jail holding cell.
The arresting officer, a probation officer and jail deputies knew Gregory Hayes was showing signs of drug intoxication, but they were not aware of two of the four drugs that he had ingested, U.S. District Judge David Barlow’s Feb. 17 opinion said.
Susan Johnson, Hayes’ mother, filed suit in 2018 on behalf of Hayes’ estate and his two children. Hayes died Dec. 14, 2017.
“None of the individuals who interacted with Hayes knew that the medication Hayes said he had taken posed a substantial risk of serious harm, much less death,” Barlow wrote. “Neither did they know that Hayes also had taken ... two of the three drugs identified as contributing to Hayes death, because Hayes did not tell them or anyone else about those medications. Thus, they could not have recklessly disregarded the severity of the risk.”
Johnson’s lawyers had argued jail personnel were deliberately indifferent to providing Hayes a constitutionally acceptable level of medical care and that the jail’s medical policies were inadequate and not closely followed by jail staff.
Daniel Baczynski, representing Johnson, said Monday that Barlow’s ruling will be appealed.
“We think the judge applied the law incorrectly,” he said, adding that the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will be asked to review the case.
Baczynski said Barlow’s ruling “incentivizes jails to use undertrained staff to screen inmates for medical and mental health problems. It’s giving them a free pass to make medical decisions.”
At the time of Hayes’ death, the jail’s practice was to admit inmates without screening by medical staff or health-trained jail staff. Nurses were called to check on inmates who appeared to need attention.
Today, under the administration of Sheriff Kelly Sparks, who took office in 2019, all arrestees are screened by nurses before being booked into jail. Inmates deemed at risk are first taken to a hospital for evaluation.
Barlow said Johnson’s lawyers did not cite any cases, binding or otherwise, that found a failure to have medical personnel screen every intoxicated inmate constituted deliberate indifference.
“Here, the video evidence and the testimony all show that Hayes was conscious, able to walk on his own, and able to have a conversation, despite the medication he had taken,” Barlow said. “Arguments that more could have been done, that one or more personnel were negligent, or that medical malpractice allegedly occurred do not by themselves rise to the level of the deliberate indifference standard.”
The former sheriff, Todd Richardson, acknowledged in a deposition that various inmate screening and medical care policies apparently we’re followed the night Hayes died.
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.”
A Davis jail nurse, who 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.
The Utah Office of the Medical Examiner 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 county said the sleep aid certainly contributed to the death.