Mother files lawsuit after daughter dies in Davis County Jail

Posted at 5:59 PM, Jan 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-04 19:59:20-05

DAVIS COUNTY, Utah -- A mother is suing the Davis County Jail after her daughter died in custody a little over a year ago.

Cynthia Stella says her 28-year-old daughter, Heather Miller, had just moved to Utah three months before she was arrested for misdemeanor drug charges. She was booked into the Davis County Jail, and after a day in custody she fell from her top bunk bed and ruptured her spleen.

“They didn't care. They didn't look at her. They didn't check her,” Stella said.

Even though Miller told the jail staff she was in a lot of pain, they never checked her vital signs. They left her bleeding for two hours and 44 minutes. Tad Draper is an attorney representing Stella in a civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court.

“She's at the mercy of her captors and they put her there and they ignore her,” Draper said.

At that point, she was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. Heather Miller was pronounced dead on arrival.

“I said what happened?" Stella recalled. "He said her spleen was ruptured and she bled to death. I said, 'Oh my god how can no one know that?' He said, 'They thought she was going through drug withdrawal. We're waiting for toxicology to come back.'"

Toxicology reports only found trace amounts of drugs in Miller’s system, and doctors have said she could have been saved if she'd been treated for the ruptured spleen right away.

Stella is seeking damages, but she's also hoping to see changes in Utah’s jail system.

“They openly admit that they have no policy or procedure to follow a dramatic fall like this,” Draper said.

Stella wants to spare other families from the pain of knowing your young daughter died in agony, alone in a cell, when she could’ve been saved.

“That's got to be the most vulnerable and helpless situation," Draper said. "Regardless of how you got there, you at least are entitled to be treated like a human being."

“They let her bleed to death and they need to be held accountable for that,” Stella said.

The Davis County Jail says they can’t comment on pending litigation.