SALT LAKE CITY — A physician's assistant arrived at the jail cell of a 21-year-old woman in rural Duchesne County in 2016, only to find that she had died less than an hour earlier.
Now, attorneys for the medical worker and a doctor employed by the jail are fighting allegations that they had ignored Madison Jensen's urgent need for medical care and did not properly train staff there before her death.
The family of Jensen, who died of dehydration as she withdrew from heroin, sued in 2017 in an effort to force changes at the jail. They allege the doctor and assistant were deliberately indifferent to her need for urgent medical care.
Jensen was booked on Nov. 27, 2016, after acting erratically and talking about suicide, her family has said, and was found dead Dec. 1, 2016. She had told jail staff she might have withdrawals and took medicine for high blood pressure.
A jail nurse had taken Jensen's blood pressure one day and dropped off a sports drink for her two days later, but did not check on her cell or call the doctor and assistant after receiving a form stating Jensen had been vomiting for four days and couldn't hold anything down, court documents say.
At a Thursday hearing in federal court in Salt Lake City, attorneys for Dr. Kennon Tubbs and his assistant, Logan Clark, argued the nurse, Jana Clyde, knew to call them if she saw concerning behavior, such as an inmate vomiting and having diarrhea over the course of 12 hours. Clyde had done so in the past, but not in Jensen's case, they said.
Moreover, the men could not have trained the nurse to treat patients, because as a licensed practical nurse, Utah law prohibited her from doing so without their direction, their attorneys contended.
U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball did not rule Thursday on their motions to dismiss the claims against them and instead took their arguments under advisement.
Clyde, also a defendant in the civil suit, is the only person criminally charged in Jensen's death. She faces a count of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor. Her attorney, Andrew Hopkins, declined comment outside the courtroom Thursday.
Ryan Hancey, an attorney for Jensen's family, argued the men had not properly trained Clyde or established protocol on how to monitor a person who's been moved to a new cell for medical observation — or on what to do when a person has opiate withdrawals or is not eating and drinking.
When Clark arrived at the jail as part of his normal rounds about 9 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2016, Hancey continued, Clyde handed him papers with information on Jensen's condition, but he did not stop to see her until after 1 p.m.
"A reasonable inference one could draw from this is that Clark would have saved her life if he had visited her sooner," Hancey said. He told the judge the men were "cherry-picking some facts that are more favorable to the story that they want to present to the jury, and are less favorable to Ms. Clyde."
Not so, countered Kathleen Abke, Clark’s attorney. Her client followed his normal routine the day Jensen died, which includes visiting other cells before the medical observation cell that held her.
"It’s not that he refused her medical care. He didn’t say, 'I’m going to put her last because I don’t think it’s that serious,'" she said. His behavior may fit a claim of negligence or malpractice, but those don't rise to the allegation of deliberate indifference waged in the lawsuit.
The suit also names Duchesne County as a defendant. A claim for punitive damages from the county was dismissed in April after the parties agreed that a municipality is immune from them, court records show. Other claims alleging the county violated Jensen's constitutional rights remain pending.
Last month, the Utah Court of Appeals court reinstated the criminal case against Clyde after it determined an 8th District judge in Vernal incorrectly ruled there was insufficient evidence for a trial. The case is pending.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly reported that Duchesne County was dismissed from the lawsuit. A punitive damage claim against the county was dropped, but other claims remain pending.