Deschutes County

DOJ findings on Deschutes inmate's death spark varied reaction

DA says deputies' actions 'deplorable'; sheriff says changes were made; family pressing on with lawsuit

DOJ clears jail staff in death

BEND, Ore. - The Oregon Department of Justice concluded a more than yearlong investigation Tuesday by clearing Deschutes County Jail staff of any criminal conduct in the hours leading up to the Dec. 14, 2014 jail cell death of Edwin Burl Mays III of a methamphetamine overdose.

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel reviewed and released the report he'd requested from the state DOJ's District Attorney Assist Unit, noting the attorney general's office "concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed."

The full report is available in PDF format here. Hummel said in a news release that he "supports the conclusions reached by the DOJ and thanks the agency for their work."

"The Department of Justice devoted 14 months and hundreds of hours into the investigation of the unfortunate death of Edwin Mays," Hummel wrote. "I commend the attorney general and her staff for their professional and thorough investigation." 

"A sober assessment of the facts indicates that on the night Ed Mays died mistakes were made and professionalism was lacking.  Things needed to improve at the jail and Sheriff (Shane) Nelson made the changes necessary to right the ship," the DA said..  At the same time, we know that many deputies acted heroically in unsuccessful efforts to resuscitate Mays and save his life.  These deputies should be recognized." 

Hummel concluded by expressing his sympathies to the Mays family: "The loss of a family member is always difficult to experience.  However, to see video of your loved one in his final hours of life being mocked by government employees while in obvious distress must be particularly painful. 

"Anyone who looks at that video tape would conclude something wrong happened, something terrible happened," Hummel said.

"My thoughts are with the family as they continue to struggle with their loss.  I support the decision by the DOJ to not initiate criminal charges.  At the same time I understand the pain family members are experiencing as a result of this decision and I sympathize with them," the DA wrote.

Hummel later told NewsChannel 21 that despite no criminal charges doesn't mean deputies acted properly that night.

"Just because they maybe didn't commit a crime, their actions were deplorable," said Hummel. 

Mays' uncle, Billy Mays, and father Eddie Mays II expressed shock at what Hummel said about the jail deputies' "heroic" actions to save their son and nephew.

"The Mays family didn't see any heroic efforts on that (4 1/2-hour) video, from start to finish -- and the (civil lawsuit) jury won't either," Billy Mays told NewsChannel 21 Tuesday night in a phone call from Washington state.

In her six-page report, Victoria Roe, senior assistant attorney general, noted that Mays, 31, was arrested with his half-brother, Adam Davenport, during a Dec. 14, 2014 traffic stop, and appeared to be under the influence of meth or a similar drug but "denied taking any drugs."

During his hours in a holding cell, Roe noted that Mays "was described by observers as extremely high; one corrections deputy described him as one of the most high persons he had ever seen."

A released videotape showed Mays acting erratically over a period of hours, and deputies appearing to mock him and debating if he should be taken to the hospital.

Davenport told jail deputies Mays should go to the hospital "but did not answer when asked why he had that concern." Roe wrote. She also noted that Mays "remained responsive to questions, ate food and drank water," appearing to be "following the typical course of methamphetamine intoxication and withdrawal that the corrections deputies had observed in hundreds of other inmates who did not need medical attention."

Roe said "corrections deputies continued to regularly check on Mays," learning shortly before 9 p.m. he had become "unresponsive and had fluid coming from his mouth." She said they immediately called Bend Fire medics and began emergency medical attention, including CPR and a portable defibrillator."

An autopsy determined Mays died of "methamphetamine toxicity."

The DOJ consulted with several medical professionals, and "learned that individuals are unlikely to suffer a fatal overdose from the ingestion of methamphetamine because the body metabolizes (it) over time and the person in effect 'sleeps it off,'" Roe wrote.

"The consensus opinion of all of the experts was that there is no way to know whether earlier medical intervention would have made any difference in the outcome to Mr. Mays," Roe added.

The prosecutor reviewed the definition of "criminal negligence" and noted that the deputies had seen many other inmates experience meth withdrawal safely after exhibiting similar behavior.

"In fact, there have been no methamphetamine overdose deaths at the Deschutes County Jail" before Mays, Roe wrote, and that medical and drug treatment experts indicated such a death from acute meth ingestion is rare given the manner in which the body metabolizes the drug."

"Similarly, the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the actions of any deputy caused Mr. Mays' death," she wrote.

Roe said the evidence did not warrant a charge of second-degree criminal mistreatment, or first-degree or second-degree official misconduct, as deputies followed jail policies , monitored him appropriately and acted properly when his condition worsened.

Nelson also issued a news release Tuesday after receiving the report finding no criminal conduct on the part of deputies. In it, he thanked the DOJ investigators and attorneys for their hard work and diligence in this matter.

"My condolences go to the Mays family for the death of their loved one," he said. " His overdose death is a reminder of the continuing threat of methamphetamine addiction in our community. The unprofessional behavior of deputies on December 14, 2014 was not acceptable and has been dealt with in personnel actions in April 2015."

Over the past year and a half, Nelson said, the sheriff's office has made the following changes:

* We have added full-time nurses for 24 hour/7 days a week staffing in the jail.
* We have entered into an ongoing contract with a local ER physician, who has advised the Sheriff's Office in reviewing and developing procedures for nursing staff and deputies in both the corrections and patrol divisions.
* We have purchased AliveLock Monitoring wristbands for use in the jail, which monitor heart rate and O2 saturation for inmates who need close medical attention.
* We have added naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdoses, to kits for corrections and patrol deputies.
* We have added additional automated external defibrillators to the jail and have upgraded the emergency bags in jail.
* We added a medical/mental health section of the jail during the expansion, to increase the capacity and improve the monitoring of at risk inmates.

"As sheriff, my job is to provide to Deschutes County the best public safety services we can with our available resources," he said. "We will continue to improve and adjust our Sheriff's Office in striving to achieve this goal. I am proud of the Sheriff's Office employees who have worked hard implementing the changes listed above.

"Every day, Sheriff's Office deputies in the jail and patrol deputies in the community face challenging situations requiring decisions with serious outcomes. I support our Sheriff's Office deputies as they perform their sworn duties to proudly serve the citizens of Deschutes," Nelson concluded.

Nearly a year ago, Mays' family filed a federal wrongful death civil lawsuit against the sheriff's office, former sheriff Larry Blanton and nine correction deputies, seeking $10.7 million in damages. They claim the deputies failed to address Mays' serious medical needs while being caught on camera making fun of him.

The family's attorney, Jennifer Coughlin, recently noted the long delay in the civil case because the deputies' lawyers said they couldn't give depositions and give statements that could impact their criminal liability. She noted that the federal judge had ordered that the deputies not be questioned in the civil lawsuit until the criminal investigation is complete.

In a statement Tuesday, Coughlin said, "The burden of proof in civil and criminal cases is so different, this finding really has no bearing on our case, other than we can now finally proceed taking the depositions of these officers.

"I think its important to take this civil case farther, to make the sheriffs liable, so next time it's your son, your daughter, your father, or your brother, they will get the medical attention they need," Coughlin told NewsChannel 21. 

The attorney said the expert she spoke with found that May's death was preventable and he should have been taken to the hospital for proper treatment. 

"The video speaks for itself, and we cannot imagine any member of a jury not being highly disturbed by the laughing at and mocking of Mr. Mays as he was dying in his cell," the attorney said.

Nelson, appointed sheriff last year after Blanton's retirement, oversaw the jail in his previous role as captain. Four jail employees were formally disciplined, with two sergeants demoted to deputy and two other employees given letters of reprimand.

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