Judge tosses negligent homicide case against Duchesne County jail nurse in dehydration death of inmate

| Courtesy of Jared Jensen Madison Jensen, 21, is one of 416 people to die in custody after she died of a cardiac arrhythmia due to dehydration and opiate withdrawal while in custody of the Duchesne County jail. Her family has searched for answers that have been slow to come. Other inmates say she was denied medical care before she died.

Duchesne • A judge on Thursday dismissed a negligent homicide case against a Duchesne County jail nurse accused of failing to help a 21-year-old inmate who died of severe dehydration while behind bars.

Jana Clyde, 50, of Hanna, had been charged in 8th District Court with the class A misdemeanor, accused of failing to intervene and possibly save the life of Madison Jensen. She died on Dec. 1, 2016, four days after she was arrested and taken to the jail.

But after hearing evidence from a number of witnesses during a Thursday preliminary hearing, Judge Lyle Anderson took the unusual step of dismissing the case — ruling there was not enough evidence for it to move forward.

He said that while the case was tragic, prosecutors did not prove that Clyde’s treatment of Jensen was a “gross deviation” from the standard of care expected, and that there wasn’t clear evidence that Clyde knew Jensen was at a substantial risk of death.

Jared Jensen, Madison’s father, said his family was “devastated” by the judge’s ruling.

“That was our daughter,” he said. “Things didn’t fall our way today.”

Jensen’s father remains hopeful that the Utah Attorney General’s Office — who prosecuted the case — will appeal the judge’s ruling.

Clyde left the courthouse Thursday without commenting to reporters. Her attorney, Brad Schmidt, said after the ruling that they were “extremely thrilled.”

“There’s no winners or losers today, but the right outcome did happen,” he said.

Prosecutors allege that Clyde, a licensed practical nurse, did not take any action to help Jensen, who complained of vomiting and diarrhea throughout the four days she spent at the jail in late November 2016.

Assistant Utah Attorney General Craig Peterson argued Thursday that Clyde had a duty and obligation to provide care to Jensen.

Several deputies testified that they noticed Jensen was increasingly ill — noting she was looked “tiny” and “not normal.” One deputy even moved her from general population to a holding cell so she could be watched more closely.

Jensen herself had filled out a form seeking medical help two days before her death, writing that she had been violently ill for four days — but did not believe she was detoxing from drugs.

“She did ask for help,” Peterson said. “She put it in writing. It was given to Nurse Clyde.”

But Clyde did nothing more than offer the inmate a Gatorade the following day, with the expectation that Jensen would be seen by a visiting physician assistant a day later, Peterson argued.

But when Clyde and the physician reached her cell, Jensen had already died.

A Utah medical examiner testified that the woman died from severe dehydration.

Clyde later told investigators that she didn’t know how seriously ill Jensen was, saying Jensen either didn’t report her symptoms or that jailers did not relay that information to her.

“I honestly did not know how bad she was throwing up,” Clyde said, according to a recording of her police interview played in court Thursday. “To this day, I don’t know.”

Clyde’s defense attorney argued that Jensen denied that she was detoxing from drugs and did not ask for medical help.

“We have a poor nurse who is sitting here today, having the finger pointed at her for something she didn’t fully have any idea what was going on,” Schmidt said.

(Pool photo) Jane Clyde at a preliminary hearing in Duchense County, on Feb. 15, 2018.

Anderson’s dismissal of the case is unusual because the burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is so low. For a case to advance from such a hearing, a judge must find only that there was “probable cause” that a crime was committed — a much lower standard than “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” required for conviction by a jury at trial. In addition, the court must also draw all reasonable inferences in the prosecution’s favor.

Jensen was arrested on Nov. 27, 2016, after her parents had called sheriff’s deputies to their Roosevelt home because the woman was suicidal and acting erratically. After telling a deputy she had done heroin four days earlier, she was arrested for internal possession of heroin and marijuana.

While being booked, Jensen told jail staff she expected to withdraw from drugs. She also noted she had high blood pressure and other ailments.

During her stay at the jail, Jensen vomited, couldn’t eat or drink and pleaded for help as she lost at least 17 pounds before dying behind bars, The Tribune has found.

A lawsuit filed by her parents in September alleges Jensen was denied medical attention at least once because there was no one in the jail who could provide it.

Jared Jensen said Thursday that Clyde could have made one simple phone call to the physician assistant to get life-saving help for his daughter.

“We’ll just keep fighting for my daughter, and fighting for change in the county,” he said. “That’s the best thing we can do for her.”