Salt Lake County pays $950K to settle jail death lawsuit — but inmate’s parents say their fight isn’t over

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) The family of Lisa Marie Ostler is suing Salt Lake County over her 2016 death in the jail. Calvin and Kim Ostler, Lisa Marie's parents, spoke about their daughter's death Thursday March 22, 2018.

When Lisa Marie Ostler’s parents sued two years ago after their daughter died in jail, they say they weren’t out for money.

They wanted changes in the Salt Lake County jail, where their daughter died in 2016 from a medical condition after jail staff ignored her pleas for help.

This week, Calvin and Kim Ostler settled their lawsuit with Salt Lake County agreeing to pay them $950,000.

The money will be helpful for Lisa Ostler’s three children, but these parents say it isn’t enough.

“We have to change things in the jail,” Calvin Ostler said Monday. “People are dying out there. It could be your kid next.”

Lisa Marie Ostler

The couple had brought a list of potential changes to negotiations, hoping for things like an increase in how often medical workers checked on inmates and their access to medications. But they say the county refused to discuss policies — only how much money they’d be willing to settle for.

With their lawsuit over, the Ostlers say they won’t stop fighting for changes at the jail. But instead of battling in the courtroom, they’ll go to the Capitol and ask legislators to pass laws that will bring more oversight to county jails.

“We are asking our Legislature, the judges, the sheriffs to really look at what policy and procedures are at the Salt Lake County jail,” Kim Ostler said. “And that an incarcerated person’s health and welfare is number one. These children don’t have a mother [now], and that isn’t right.”

Salt Lake County officials did not admit to wrongdoing or liability as part of the settlement.

“The county considers any loss of life tragic," said Bridget Romano, an attorney with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office. "And every case involving a death at the Salt Lake County jail rises and falls on its own unique facts and circumstances. Salt Lake County’s decision to settle this matter was not based on an admission of liability, rather it reflects the county’s good faith appraisal of all aspects of this case, which include in part, the passage of time and the tragic loss of witnesses due to intervening death and incapacitation.”

Over the course of five days in March 2016, Ostler suffered a painful decline while Salt Lake County jailers ignored or overlooked her pleas for medical attention, according to the federal lawsuit.

Jailers thought she was suffering from the painful withdrawals that come when a body reacts to a lack of opiates, according to the lawsuit. In a few days, they thought, she’d be fine.

But Ostler suffered from Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease that can cause extreme pain and digestive issues. She died at a hospital on April 3, 2016.

A medical examiner determined she died of peritonitis, an inflammation in the abdomen that can lead to a spreading infection.

Her parents said they were surprised at the autopsy’s findings — and shocked when other women who had been in the jail had contacted them after their daughter died to tell them about how she had suffered.

They had heard her screaming. They had begged the guards to help her. Many were drug addicts themselves, the Ostlers said, and knew that what was happening to Lisa Ostler wasn’t withdrawals.

Lisa Ostler, who was 37 when she died, was arrested in Draper when officers approached her in a parking lot and found several syringes she allegedly used to inject heroin and meth, according to court documents.

She was at the jail waiting to see a judge to determine if she could post bail, and had not been convicted of any crime.

“I’ll bet it feels like you’re going to die, doesn’t it?” one of the jail’s officers asked her on her third day in jail, according to the complaint. “Just a couple more days.”

Rocky Anderson, the Ostlers’ attorney, said that if any of the jail’s official protocols had been followed, Lisa Ostler would be alive today.

Anderson said that in their investigation, they found it was common for inmate medical care to be disregarded, including jail nurses spending hours watching videos during their shifts.

“You’ve got all of these moments, all of these people involved either doing the wrong things or not doing anything at all,” he said. “They totally blew her off. And it cost her her life.”