OGDEN — Weber County and the county jail’s former contract doctor have filed court documents denying fault in the death of an inmate during suicide watch.
Nathan Hall filed suit in November alleging jail personnel failed to adequately treat his brother Matthew Ryan Hall’s mental illness and botched his care after a suicidal fall on Feb. 24, 2017.
But according to a new U.S. District Court filing in Salt Lake City, a county indemnity pool attorney has asked for dismissal of the suit, asserting personnel provided constitutionally satisfactory care.
That attorney, Frank Mylar, is defending the county, former Sheriff Terry Thompson, three former jail nurses and 10 unnamed corrections employees.
According to the suit, Matthew Hall was put on suicide watch after an attempt to jump from a jail tier.
He repeatedly slammed his head into his 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.”
Mylar’s response said his clients are entitled to the defense of qualified immunity, protection from civil liability, “in that their actions were not contrary to clearly established law and a reasonable person would have known” their conduct was constitutional.
John R. 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.”
Hall died two weeks later at a hospital.
Wood’s attorney, Kurt Frankenburg, said in court documents that Wood denies he failed to provide proper care and that Hall’s case was mishandled.
Wood also denies he was notified by the jail that Hall had been placed on suicide watch.
Frankenburg also asserted a qualified immunity defense for Wood and argued that Matthew Hall’s “own negligence, carelessness and-or fault” may have caused or contributed to his injuries and death.
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.
Hall’s suit is one of several federal civil rights cases over jail deaths in the Weber and Davis county jails in the past five years.
Statewide jail death reports mandated by the Utah Legislature beginning in 2018 showed suicide is the most common cause of deaths behind bars.
Weber County Sheriff Ryan Arbon, who was elected in 2018, has made several moves to address jail problems.
They include switching the jail’s medical care to a national contract provider. Nurses who work in the jail now report to that provider, which also supplies doctor services.
Late last year, the county contracted 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.
Even so, suicide in local jails ticked up in Weber and Davis jails in 2020 — three in Davis and two in Weber. There were no suicides in the Davis County Jail in 2018 or 2019, while the Weber County Jail reported a single suicide in each of those years.
LIFE-SAVING ACTIONS The sheriff’s offices in both counties also have begun to publicly chronicle instances of corrections deputies preventing suicides.
For example, the Weber office said in a news release Thursday that several deputies were able to stop an inmate’s suicide attempt.
After a medical assessment, the inmate was taken to a safety cell and placed on a medical protocol for suicide prevention, the release said.
“Due to the quick response of the Weber County deputies, this inmate did not sustain serious injuries from the suicide attempt and was able to get mental health counseling,” the statement said. “We are constantly re-evaluating, revising, and improving our safety procedures and protocols in an effort to achieve our goal” of no inmate deaths.
The Davis jail reported twice on similar life-saving actions by its deputies in 2020.