OGDEN, Utah — A woman suing a Utah county after her daughter died of blunt force injuries while in custody said Thursday that jail officers should have been checking more frequently on her daughter.
Cynthia Farnham-Stella of Reno, Nevada, said she hopes the case will usher in change in Utah, which has the country’s highest rate of jail deaths, the Standard-Examiner reported .
Her daughter, Heather Ashton Miller, 28, died in December 2016 at a hospital while in custody of the Davis County Jail. She fell from her cell bunk and suffered a blunt-force spleen injury.
The lawsuit filed on Wednesday said nurses did not check Miller’s vitals after the fall and moved her to another cell, where she bled internally for hours.
Farnham-Stella said her daughter would be alive if officers had checked on her every 15 or 30 minutes, the Deseret News reported.
“My daughter meant everything to me. She was raised in a good home,” Farnham-Stella said Thursday. “She didn’t deserve to die by falling from a bunk and no one paying attention because they assumed she was drug withdrawn.”
The Davis County Sheriff’s Office declined comment about the lawsuit.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office investigated Miller’s death and found that any negligence by jail medical staff did not rise to a level justifying criminal charges.
An independent investigation by the Weber County Sheriff’s Office criticized the Davis jail for cleaning up the two cells Miller occupied the day of her injury and the medical unit, where jailers trundled her in a wheelchair after she became unresponsive.
The Weber County officers said the cells should have been treated like a crime scene — preserved for collection of evidence because Miller was under the care of the jail at the time of her injury.
It was noted in those reports that Davis officials didn’t consider Miller’s death “in-custody” because she was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Tad Draper, Farnham-Stella’s attorney, said the jail violated Miller’s civil rights by exhibiting deliberate indifference to her care.
“She’s not in jail hardly more than 24 hours and hasn’t been convicted of a crime and she’s dead,” Draper said. “It’s clear that they denied her medical attention.”
Information from: Standard-Examiner, http://www.standard.net