The family of a man who died after 2 days in Uintah County Jail complains, saying he did not receive the necessary medication
A man who died in Uintah County Prison did not receive adequate medical care due to the county guidelines at the time, according to a lawsuit filed by the deceased’s family.
Jeremy Hunter, 34, was due to stay in jail for five days for a parole violation when he was posted in December 2014. He died after two days.
In a file in federal court earlier this month, the family says the prison of Hunter’s medical problems should have known that he told them on the admission forms that he was taking high blood pressure medication before he was posted and that the guidelines were in place The sheriff’s office and the county commission did not protect him or any other inmates at the time.
When Hunter received the drugs prescribed to control his high blood pressure, he was in custody for almost 48 hours and suffered from severe chest pain. He told the prison staff that his pain felt like a heart attack he had had years ago.
After a nurse returned from the pharmacy and gave Hunter his medication in hopes that it would help with his pain, Hunter collapsed, according to county documents prepared in response to his death and sent by the family the Salt Lake Tribune.
Dave Cundick, a family lawyer, modified a complaint against county, state and prison staff two weeks after The Tribune published an investigation into medical capacity in Utah county prisons. It also comes at a time when Utah officials and advocacy groups are debating whether reforms are needed to better protect inmates.
“I don’t think any of the petty offenses are supposed to be death sentences.”
– State Senator Todd Weiler
The Tribune’s investigation found that Uintah County approved a contract that included a Draper doctor as the prison’s medical director at the time of Hunter’s death.
The doctor, Kennon C. Tubbs, once had contracts with up to 11 prisons in Utah and Wyoming and sent an assistant to examine inmates once a week. He is not named in the lawsuit.
In December 2014, the nurse visited Uintah County on Thursdays. Hunter was booked on a Thursday and Friday evening and was in high blood pressure-related pain, according to the suit and documents. He died on Saturday.
The family now suggests that medical policy contributed to Hunter’s death.
“Since Jeremy Hunter’s urgent need did not arise on a Thursday according to the policy, competent professional support was obviously not available,” the lawsuit said. “Such a lack of medical care included a deliberate inability to get much-needed drugs.”
A nurse in the prison checked Hunter’s blood pressure, but according to the lawsuit, he was not given any medication that he had relied on before his arrest. An autopsy revealed that when he died he had no medication in his blood or any illegal drugs.
Hunter died after his hypertensive cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure caused his aorta to rupture, which filled the pericardium with blood, according to the state coroner’s autopsy report.
“The investigation revealed that the deceased was an inmate in the Uintah County Jail who suddenly and unexpectedly collapsed,” the report said.
Uintah County Sheriff Vance Norton was not a sheriff at the time of Hunter’s death and referred any questions to the prosecutor, who did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The district’s contract with Tubbs ended earlier this year and the prison’s medical care is now overseen by a local doctor, who the sheriff says visits inmates regularly.
State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, leads a group of attorneys and sheriffs considering what reforms, if any, should be introduced to protect inmates. He said he was particularly interested in cases where inmates are put in jail and not given the drugs they were given before they were arrested. The group has identified suicide as an important issue to investigate, he added.
“I do not think that some of the petty offenses should be death sentences,” said lawyer Weiler.
Hunter’s family say the lawsuit violated his constitutional rights because the US constitution requires the counties to provide medical care to inmates.
“The wrongful acts were willful, suppressive, fraudulent and malicious,” the lawsuit states, “and thus justified the granting of punitive damages against the defendants and each of them at a level that adequately punishes the wrongdoer and discourages future misconduct.”
Cundick demands that a jury determine economic and non-economic damage as well as punitive damages in a court case.