FARMINGTON — Davis County is facing a $2 million wrongful-death claim over allegations that the county jail deprived a woman of life-sustaining prescription medications after she was booked on a traffic-related offense.
Kara Noakes died in her cell June 23, 2016, two days after her arrest, and investigators closed the case as a “natural death.” But an attorney representing her family has filed a notice of claim seeking damages for alleged deprivation of her civil rights by negligence and reliance on “improper and dangerous” policies.
The claim, which the Standard-Examiner obtained with a public-records request, also attacks the setting of bail at more than $1,900, which Noakes and her relatives could not come up with. A lower bail amount would have been appropriate for someone with a heart condition and needing to stay on medicine, the claim said.
“Any jail has a duty to provide basic medical care to inmates,” Noakes family attorney Steven J. Johnson said in an interview Friday. “When you’ve got an inmate on a life-sustaining medication who will likely die if she stops taking it, you’re going to expect that inmate to suffer negative health consequences, including death, and the jail is legally responsible.”
Over the two days of her incarceration, Noakes and her relatives pleaded with the jail to allow her to take the medications she brought to the jail, but they were refused, Johnson said
County officials have declined to comment on Noakes’ case. But jail policy dictates that to receive continued prescription medications after booking, a new prescription must be written by a jail doctor. That can take a day or two, especially over a weekend.
In documents released to the Standard-Examiner after a record request in 2017, a copy of Noakes’ medication sheet from the jail listed no prescriptions.
The death was investigated by an independent agency, the Weber County Sheriff’s Office in Ogden.
Noakes’ death was due to “atherosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure and heart disease), and other significant conditions,” the Weber detective’s report said. Those other conditions were redacted from the released investigative report.
Johnson said Noakes had been taking medication for years to control a heart condition.
In his June 21, 2017, claim letter to the county, Johnson said the county “knew about Kara’s medical needs and had sufficient opportunity to respond to those needs within the critical time period, but instead of providing the necessary care, disregarded Kara’s needs and requests and left Kara to die while in their custody. Kara went for the next 48 hours without having this life-saving medication.”
The claim named as defendants Davis County, Sheriff Todd Richardson, two jail supervisors and Dr. John Wood, the contract provider of medical services at the jail.
A notice of claim is a potential precursor to a civil suit in court.
Asked about the status of the claim, Michael Kennedy, a deputy in the Davis County Attorney’s Office’s civil division, said he was not aware of any action being taken on it yet.
“It feels like they’re avoiding us,” Johnson said. “We’ll likely have to file a lawsuit on this one, so we intend to do that.”
Noakes was arriving home from giving a friend a ride to work when she was arrested by Sunset police for failure to appear on a citation for driving without a license and insurance.
The Weber detective reviewed recordings of numerous phone calls between Noakes and her relatives from June 21 to 23. They spoke about the problem of raising bail and her need for medications.
“There was talk of outrage that Kara was not receiving her medication and being forced to ‘detox,’” the detective wrote.
He said a review of surveillance video showed Noakes went to the jail’s medical unit at 7:47 a.m. June 23, returning to her cell at 9:01 a.m. She was last seen entering her cell at 10:43 a.m. — about three hours before she was found unconscious.
Another 2016 Davis jail death drew a U.S. District Court civil rights lawsuit on Jan. 3 this year. Cynthia Farnham-Stella is suing the county for damages and an injunction requiring better medical care for inmates.
Heather Miller, 28, Farnham-Stella’s daughter, died of a severely ruptured spleen after falling from her cell’s top bunk on Dec. 21, 2016. She had been arrested the day before on a misdemeanor drug charge.
Utah led the nation in per capita jail deaths in 2015, the most recent year of data available from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Jails reported 24 deaths statewide in 2016, a 17-year high.