A Duchesne County jail nurse accused of failing to help a 21-year-old inmate who died of severe dehydration will once again face a charge of negligent homicide.
A judge last February took the unusual step of tossing the case against Jana Clyde, finding there was not enough evidence for the case to move forward. Clyde had been accused of failing to intervene and possibly save the life of Madison Jensen, who died in December 2016 after being at the jail for four days.
But on Thursday, the Utah Court of Appeals reversed Judge Lyle Anderson’s decision. The high court found that prosecutors had met their burden at the preliminary hearing to show that Clyde’s treatment of Jensen was likely a “gross deviation” from the standard of care expected, and she likely would have known that Jensen was at a substantial risk of death.
Anderson’s dismissal of the case is unusual because the burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is low. For a case to advance, 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.
This means that Clyde will again face the class A misdemeanor and the possibility of spending a year in jail if convicted.
"It was a ruling that was delayed that should have happened in the first place," Jared Jensen, Madison's father, said Friday. "We totally knew the judge blew it."
After the judge tossed the case last year, Jared Jensen said his family were devastated. He said Friday that they’ve held out hope the case would be reinstated as the Utah Attorney General’s Office appealed the ruling.
"We're not out to get anybody," the father said. "We're just trying to have somebody be accountable for what happened."
Peter Stirba, Clyde's attorney, called the appeals courts' ruling "unfortunate."
"Now it just goes back to the trial court," he said Friday, "and then what happens from there remains to be seen."
The appeals court noted in its ruling that it was not expressing an opinion on the merits of the prosecutors’ case, but found the judge improperly dismissed it.
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.
Several deputies testified at a February 2018 preliminary hearing that they noticed Jensen was increasingly ill — noting she was looked “tiny” and “not normal.” One deputy even moved her from the 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.
Clyde did nothing more than offer the inmate a Gatorade the following day, prosecutors say, with the expectation that Jensen would be seen by a visiting physician assistant a day later.
When Clyde and the physician assistant reached her cell, Jensen had already died. A Utah medical examiner testified that it was from severe dehydration.
Clyde later told investigators 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. “To this day, I don’t know.”
Jensen was arrested 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.
A lawsuit filed by her parents alleges Jensen was denied medical attention at least once because there was no one in the jail who could provide it. That lawsuit is still pending.
Jared Jensen said Friday that his daughter had no criminal history and been willing to go to the jail because she thought it would be a place where she would be safe.
“My daughter put herself in that jail to save her own life,” he said. “And she ended up losing her life.”