Davis Sheriff's reports describe last hours of overdosing arrestee

Thursday , July 19, 2018 - 5:15 AM2 comments

FARMINGTON — They called for an ambulance when his skin turned blue.

The arrestee, a drug addict, “was oddly breathing, but he woke up,” one deputy wrote in her official report.

So they canceled the ambulance call.

RELATED: Suit charges Davis jail returned prescription drugs to addict before overdose

Incident reports filed by Davis County Jail personnel outline the events of the approximately 4½ hours from the time a deputy first noticed Gregory Leigh Hayes was breathing strangely to the moment when a deputy saw the arrestee had stopped breathing.

The reports detail the busy scene in the jail booking and intake area on the night of Dec. 13, 2017, and then the early morning hours of Dec. 14, as corrections officers and jail nurses handled Hayes in a holding cell.

Hayes, 33, who had a history of drug addiction, died before he could be processed into the general jail population.

His death was the seventh in-custody death involving the Davis jail in an 18-month period and was an example of a problem now being addressed at the state level: What are Utah’s county jails and state prisons doing to care for a growing wave of drug addicted, overdosed or withdrawing arrestees?

With a public records request, the Standard-Examiner obtained jail incident reports about Hayes.

Deputy Kelcie Baer reported she was working in the jail’s intake area, where new inmates are booked and processed, at about 8 p.m. Dec. 13.

“Another inmate was being uncooperative … so (a corrections officer) placed Hayes in a cell so we could help deal with the other inmate,” Baer said.

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Hayes eventually was let out of the cell so the booking process could be continued.

“Hayes was lethargic and seemed to be under the influence of something … but was able to answer every question,” Baer wrote.

A deputy had to help Hayes keep his hands on the counter, but he was able to stand on his own, Baer said.

Intake was full at the time, so deputies gave Hayes a blanket and took him to a holding cell to get some sleep, Baer said.

Corrections officer Megan Reid reported that at about 1 a.m. she noticed Hayes — lying on the floor of cell 5 — “was breathing heavy,” so she asked a nurse to check him.

“We had already been watching Hayes while in intake because he was struggling to follow simple commands and would fall asleep while talking with us,” Reid said. “Hayes was sleeping in cell 5 throughout the night and breathing oddly the entire time.”

After the nurse cleared Hayes in the 1 a.m. check, they helped him turn on his side “so he could sleep and breathe better,” Reid said, and they put blankets under his head.

At 3 a.m., corrections officer Cheyenne Kelly was walking past cell 5 and looked in. Hayes “was blue,” so she ran to intake to tell the other deputies. An officer called for sheriff’s paramedics and an ambulance.

But when deputies reached the cell, Hayes awoke, so the emergency call was canceled. They summoned a jail nurse to assess him again.

“Hayes was repositioned so his breathing wasn’t quite as labored. and he went back to sleep,” wrote another deputy.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, symptoms of drug overdose include bluish skin and labored breathing.

Corrections Sgt. Kenneth Hatfield reported he was walking past cell 5 at 5:30 a.m. and it appeared Hayes was not breathing.

“I entered the cell and shook Hayes and got no response,” Hatfield wrote.

Emergency personnel were summoned and an ambulance took Hayes to Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton, where he was pronounced dead at 6:13 a.m., according to court records.

The sheriff’s office is under fire in federal court for allegedly failing to adequately care for Hayes and failing to adhere to jail policies governing the acceptance of new inmates with medical problems.

“One of those policies says that they are obligated to provide a suspect, if they know they have a drug issue, they are required to be evaluated by a medical doctor, and they’re not doing it,” attorney Tad Draper, who is handling the suit filed by Hayes’ mother, said in an interview.

“They put him in a cell and he’s dead before morning,” Draper said.

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Davis jail policies address what to do with inmates showing signs of substance abuse.

“Inmates displaying signs of drug, alcohol abuse, or withdrawal should not be accepted until they have been seen and cleared by a physician,” says a policy section about inmate screening. “Drug overdose can be a very serious matter, particularly if the person has taken several kinds of drugs.”

The policy adds this guidance to jail personnel:

“It must be a matter of judgment whether or not to accept such an inmate. Remember, however, that the screener cannot diagnose the condition, and it might be more serious than seems apparent. So when using judgment and common sense, if it is determined the inmate may have a problem, do not accept him until he has been medically cleared.”

Hayes had been released from the jail earlier Dec. 13 after serving two months on misdemeanor drug charges.

His mother’s attorney said Hayes soon learned his estranged wife was seeing another man, so he took three types of drugs, including pills from two prescription bottles that were returned to him by corrections officers.

A Clearfield police officer picked up Hayes from his brother’s home and returned him to jail at about 7:20 p.m. Dec. 13.

The Farmington Police Department has been investigating Hayes’ death. The usual practice when a jail inmate dies is to assign an outside agency to investigate.

Susan Johnson of Layton, Hayes’ mother, filed suit in U.S. District Court on July 6 against Davis County and Sheriff Todd Richardson, alleging negligence in the medical care of inmates.

The County Attorney’s Office, which defends county agencies in civil suits, has had no comment on the case. It is common for government agencies not to publicly comment on civil litigation.

The Utah Legislature in March mandated that a state work group be formed to study how local jails handle inmates with drug addictions. The group is expected to report its findings in November for possible action by lawmakers in 2019.

“We are anticipating we will address the entire process, which starts with booking,” Mary Lou Emerson, the work group leader, said Wednesday.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/SEMarkShenefelt.

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