Weber County disputes allegations in jail death lawsuit

Tuesday , January 16, 2018 - 5:15 AM2 comments

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Weber County has filed court documents denying wrongful-death allegations by the husband of a woman who died while undergoing heroin withdrawal in the county jail.

Marion Herrera, 40, of Ogden, died May 22, 2016. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on Sept. 15, 2017. Herrera's estate is represented by her husband, Joe, and attorney Michael Studebaker of Ogden. Defendants are Weber County and Sheriff Terry Thompson.

RELATED: Federal lawsuit filed over woman's opioid withdrawal death in Weber County Jail

The suit blamed the death on the jail’s alleged failure to ensure Herrera stayed hydrated during her 3 1/2-day jail stay. Herrera was arrested by South Ogden police May 18 for allegedly cashing a $763 forged check at a credit union. Herrera was moved May 19 into a medical cell for heroin detoxification treatment and liquid diet restrictions that needed to be monitored, the suit said.

An autopsy report said Herrera died of narcotics withdrawal and dehydration.

The suit said the jail “exhibited a shocking degree of deliberate indifference and reckless disregard for the evident medical needs of Marion Herrera.” It demanded civil monetary damages for Herrera’s death and the alleged denial of her constitutional rights.

In response to the lawsuit, Frank Mylar, a private attorney representing the county, said in a court filing on Dec. 8, 2017, that the suit should be dismissed because the “claims for damages are speculative, conclusory, and not supported by sufficient factual allegations.”

Herrera apparently should have taken better advantage of the jail grievance system, according to Mylar’s filing.

The county argued Herrera “failed to exhaust all of her available administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act,” a federal law governing courts’ handling of inmates’ civil suits.

“Specifically, the jail has a thorough grievance policy and practice to assert complaints and grievances of all kinds,” Mylar wrote.

RELATED: Ogden inmate not given IV, died of dehydration in Weber jail, attorney says

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The county document addressed the lawsuit’s contention that jail nurses did not keep close enough tabs on Herrera as she was withdrawing from heroin. Jail staff saw Herrera awake at 11:30 p.m. on May 21 and visually checked on her at 1:30 a.m. May 22, the county acknowledged.

The county’s investigation of the death said Herrera was discovered unresponsive at 3:18 a.m.

“Herrera had been deceased long enough that rigor mortis had set in,” the lawsuit said.

ARCHIVE: Investigating Northern Utah jail deaths

Amended pleadings by the parties are due to be filed by Oct. 15, 2018.

Herrera was one of at least 24 people who died in Utah’s county jails in 2016. Utah’s status as the national leader in jail deaths per capita has sparked legislative scrutiny and demands by civil liberties groups that the Utah Sheriffs’ Association’s secret jail standards be made public.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt. 

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