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Death of woman injured in Davis County Jail is suspicious, attorney says

Death of woman injured in Davis County Jail is suspicious, attorney says

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FARMINGTON — The Utah Attorney General's Office has been asked to investigate the death of a woman who died from blunt force trauma she allegedly suffered at the Davis County Jail.

“After reviewing the investigative report submitted to our office by Weber County, we’ve made the determination to seek the involvement of the Utah Attorney General's Office moving forward,” Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said. “We believe the facts justify a review by that office, for whatever actions they deem appropriate, and to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest by keeping it here in Davis County.”

On Dec. 20, Heather Ashton Miller, 28, was arrested in Clearfield and booked into the Davis County Jail at 4:19 a.m. for investigation of meth and heroin possession, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Just before 9 p.m. the next day, she was taken from the jail by ambulance to McKay Dee Hospital where she was pronounced dead a short time later.

"Miller died as a result of blunt force injuries of abdomen sustained when she reportedly fell from the upper bunk in her cell while attempting to climb down about a day and a half after being booked into the jail," an autopsy report from the Utah State Medical Examiner's Office states. "She was seen by medical personnel and no obvious injuries were noted."

The report did not observe any external injuries to Miller's abdomen. However, there was a "near complete transection of the spleen at the inferior pole, approximately 3 cm from the tip."

Attorney Rocky Anderson, who is representing Miller's mother, Cynthia Farnham-Stella, calls the death very suspicious.

"Heather’s death certainly calls for a thorough investigation. Heather entered the jail in good health, she apparently did not have contact with other inmates, and didn’t have a cellmate, and paramedics were called when, according to our information, Heather was unconscious and having seizures. Heather suffered a blunt force trauma to her abdomen violent enough that it almost entirely split her spleen. That would cause tremendous pain, which would have been evident had it occurred prior to Heather being taken to jail. The blunt force trauma clearly did not happen before she was arrested. It had to have occurred at the jail," Anderson said.

"We question whether Heather fell from the top bunk because she was in the cell alone and there would be no reason for her to be in the top bunk."

Anderson said he would like to know who told the medical examiner that Miller fell from a top bunk.

Davis County Sheriff's Sgt. DeeAnn Servey said Thursday she could not discuss details of the case because of the ongoing investigation. She said a protocol team from the Weber County Sheriff's Office investigated the incident and then turned its findings over the Davis County Attorney's Office.

Speaking in general terms, Servey said everyone brought to the Davis County Jail to be booked is asked a series of 25 medical questions before being admitted, followed by a second evaluation with a nurse at the jail. If an inmate doesn't declare any injury or condition, they are assumed to be healthy and booked.

Anderson said Farnham-Stella didn't find out about her daughter's death until the day after when she received a call from one of her other daughters. That daughter learned of the death from the sister of the man with whom Miller was arrested with on Dec. 20.

"It doesn’t appear anyone at the jail or hospital ever called anyone to inform them that Heather was suffering from an injury or that she had died," he said.

He said the mother received a call from the sheriff's office eight days after Miller's death.

"This case should be pursued aggressively and thoroughly," Anderson said.

Daniel Burton, spokesman for the attorney general's office, would only confirm that a request was made from Rawlings. "Whether or not we will investigate will be kept confidential until we are able to release a statement about it,” he said.

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Pat Reavy

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