A year and a half after Edwin Mays died of a meth overdose in the Deschutes County jail, the Oregon Department of Justice has determined the conduct of jail deputies that night does not warrant criminal prosecution.
On Tuesday, the DOJ released a factual summary and legal analysis of the incident. It found there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that deputies committed any of the following crimes the night Mays died: criminally negligent homicide, second-degree criminal mistreatment and first-degree official misconduct.
Since Mays’ death, four deputies have been disciplined and Sheriff Shane Nelson has spoken publicly about what he has called the lack of professionalism displayed during the incident.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel had asked the Oregon Department of Justice in March 2015 to investigate the death; the DOJ’s findings were outlined in a letter to Hummel on Tuesday.
Jail surveillance video taken the night Mays died shows him behaving erratically; he was described “as extremely high.”
According to the factual summary, Mays was booked into the jail just after 5 p.m., and for some time, the DOJ found, he did not display any indications of needing immediate medical attention.
“His condition seemed 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,” the report states.
One of the corrections deputies discussed Mays’ condition with his supervisors, who “believed Mays would detoxify safely from the methamphetamine and that the corrections deputies should continue to regularly monitor Mr. Mays’ behavior,” according to the report.
Deputies continued to check on Mays throughout the night; when they found him unresponsive, they called paramedics and began providing CPR, the report said.
The jail video also appears to show deputies making jokes about Mays and periodically watching a football game.
“That conduct was considered as part of the overall analysis of the circumstances in the case, but ultimately did not change the conclusions reached,” the report states in a footnote.
Mays, 31, died Dec. 14, 2014. Since then, his family has filed a $10.7 million lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the county, former Sheriff Larry Blanton and several deputies.
Attorney Jennifer Coughlin represents the Mays family.
Reached Tuesday, Coughlin said the DOJ’s decision was not surprising and that it allowed the civil case against the county to move forward. She has been waiting to take official statements — called depositions — from deputies who worked that night and Blanton, the former sheriff, who announced his retirement days after Mays’ death. In the past month, she has also publicly urged the DOJ to complete its investigation.
Billy Mays, Mays’ uncle, who has spoken on behalf of the family in the past, said Tuesday he could not immediately comment on the DOJ summary.
The sheriff’s office conducted an initial investigation of the death, which the DOJ reviewed in addition to other evidence, according to the letter sent to Hummel.
The Department of Justice also interviewed jail deputies, other inmates, the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy and other medical professionals, according to the letter.
“According to the medical experts with whom we spoke, there is no way to determine if earlier medical intervention would have prevented his death given the amount of methamphetamine he had ingested,” the report states.
Coughlin took issue with this contention and said she intended to subpoena the names of the medical experts the DOJ consulted in the course of its investigation.
She also noted the burden of proof to show deputies acted negligently is less in the lawsuit.
“The main point is, we are now looking forward to moving ahead in the civil case against Deschutes County and these officers,” Coughlin said.
In a statement Tuesday, Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson thanked the Department of Justice and contended he and his office have since made positive changes to the way they respond to medical incidents in the jail.
“My condolences go to the Mays family for the death of their loved one. 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.”
The sheriff also said the office has added nurses and medical equipment, including naloxone — a drug deployed to reverse opioid overdoses — and additional automated external defibrillators, and has a consulting contract with an emergency room physician.
Four deputies were disciplined in connection with the death — including two supervisors who were demoted.
Hummel also released a statement Tuesday, in part commending the Oregon Department of Justice for its “thorough” investigation.
“A sober assessment of the facts indicates that on the night Ed Mays died mistakes were made and professionalism was lacking,” the district attorney said. “Things needed to improve at the jail, and Sheriff Nelson made the changes necessary to right the ship. 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.”
The district attorney also extended his sympathies to the Mays family.
A DOJ spokeswoman did not respond to specific questions about the findings submitted via email Tuesday afternoon.