SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Court of Appeals court has reinstated the criminal case against a nurse charged in the death of a 21-year-old inmate in the rural Duchesne County jail.
In a Thursday written opinion, the appeals court found a Vernal judge was incorrect when he determined the evidence presented at a 2018 hearing was not sufficient for the case to advance to a trial.
Nurse Jana Clyde faces a misdemeanor charge of negligent homicide in the death of Madison Jensen, who died in December 2016 of dehydration.
The evidence at the preliminary hearing, including testimony from medical experts, established a reasonable inference that Clyde’s "near complete indifference" toward Jensen "grossly deviated from the standard of care for treating severe dehydration, especially when the result of a failure to treat is death," the Thursday opinion states.
Jensen was booked in November 2016 after acting erratically and talking about suicide, her family has said. She told jail staff she might have heroin withdrawals and took medicine for high blood pressure.
Clyde's attorneys had argued prosecutors failed to show there was a substantial and unjustifiable risk Jensen would die. They contended the state did not establish the standard of care the nurse should have adhered to or that she had significantly deviated from such a threshold.
The appeals court rejected those arguments in the opinion authored by Judge Jill Pohlman.
Other than checking Jensen's blood pressure one day and dropping off a sports drink two days later, Clyde did not take the woman's vital signs, check on Jensen in her cell or contact a physician's assistant, even after receiving a form stating that Jensen had been vomiting for four days and couldn't hold anything down, the opinion states. But as a nurse, she knew the right protocol to treat someone with heroin withdrawal is to monitor blood pressure, provide fluids and contact the doctor's assistant, Pohlman wrote.
Two other appeals judges concurred.
Attorneys for the nurse had argued at the hearing last year that Clyde had Jensen complete a form to see a physician's assistant set to arrive two days later, and Jensen did not ask for continued care. After 8th District Judge Lyle Anderson ruled the state hadn't met its burden, the Utah Attorney General's Office appealed the decision.
The Thursday opinion noted the point of the 2018 preliminary hearing was to determine if there is probable cause — the lower standard police adhere to in making an arrest — and not proof beyond a reasonable doubt — the standard for a conviction at trial.
The decision directed the lower court to order a trial for Clyde. A new court date had not yet been set as of Friday.
Correction: An earlier version stated Madison Jensen was booked into Duchesne County Jail in December 2017. She was booked in December 2016.