Nearly two hours before Edwin Burl Mays III died of a meth overdose in the Deschutes County jail, a sheriff’s deputy said Mays “probably” needed to go to the hospital, according to court records filed Monday.
The county’s lawyers, who represent the defendants in a lawsuit filed by a representative of Mays’ estate, acknowledged this and other statements made the night Mays, 31, died, in a new response to the lawsuit.
They maintain, however, that neither the county nor the deputies are responsible for Mays’ death Dec. 14, 2014, and denied nearly all the lawsuit’s allegations.
The response was filed on behalf of former Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton and nine deputies, who along with the county, are defendants in a lawsuit filed in May 2015 that seeks $10.7 million. Blanton retired last summer and was replaced by the then-jail commander, Shane Nelson.
On the night Mays died in a cell in the jail’s booking area, deputies also said, referring to Mays, “He is doing the zombie.” “You gotta come over here and watch,” and “Pull up a seat, bro,” court records show.
Mays was declared dead by paramedics after hours of erratic behavior. Surveillance video taken that night shows deputies mocking Mays and watching a football game.
The response also acknowledges that sheriff’s office policy provides that members are prohibited from watching television while on duty, except for training purposes.
Deputies called for emergency medical help shortly before 9 p.m., when they found Mays was not breathing, according to the lawsuit.
Four deputies were disciplined in connection with the incident, according to the sheriff’s office.
The Oregon Department of Justice said in late May that no criminal prosecution was warranted in the incident. DOJ investigators found insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that deputies committed criminally negligent homicide, second-degree criminal mistreatment or first-degree official misconduct in Mays’ death.
The reply that was filed Monday was nearly identical to the response filed on behalf of Deschutes County one year ago, in which the county denied blame for Mays’ death but acknowledged many of the deputies’ statements, which were captured on the surveillance video.
The county had held off on filing a response on behalf of the individual defendants until the DOJ completed its inquiry, Deschutes County Legal Counsel David Doyle said Tuesday.
“I didn’t feel comfortable meeting with (the deputies) to substantively go over the allegations in the complaint at the point in time there was an external criminal investigation,” Doyle said. “I didn’t want anybody to suggest or indicate that county counsel was in there trying to coach people up ahead of a criminal investigation.”
And, he said, the defendants had criminal defense attorneys as well.
“Once they lawyered up individually … obviously at that point their criminal defense lawyers were, in essence, the quarterback calling the shot,” Doyle said.
The lawsuit alleges, in part, that Mays’ death was wrongful; his civil rights were violated; that he was denied essential medical care; that deputies were inadequately supervised; and that the county was negligent.
Attorneys for the county have mounted several affirmative defenses that challenge the allegations in the lawsuit.
Those arguments include that Mays was responsible for his injuries and harm because he ingested meth, didn’t reasonably notify the defendants he ingested meth or that he needed medical care, and that he failed to take other “reasonable” steps to avoid harm.
They also argue it would be unfair for the plaintiffs to receive damages for injuries resulting from Mays’ illegal possession and ingestion of meth.
They also argue that the deputies’ actions did not legally cause the harm allegedly done to Mays.
When the county’s initial response was filed last year, Mays’ attorney, Jennifer Coughlin, said she disagreed with the county’s assertion that Mays should have told deputies he ingested meth and that he had not told them he needed medical attention. She also argued the deputies were making medical choices on Mays’ behalf.
Doyle said the additions in Monday’s response were due to an enhanced version of the recording supplied to the county by an outside entity.
The audio was “scrubbed” of background noise, making statements easier to confirm or deny, Doyle said.
In the most recent filing, the defense states that Deputy Jesse Hurley at one point said, “He needs Narcan.” Narcan is a brand name for Naloxone, a drug that is used to reverse opioid overdoses. Methamphetamine is not an opiate.
The response also states that Deputy David Chambers said, “chill out;” that he later said, “He says he needs to go to the hospital,” and that Hurley responded, “He probably does.”
The response also states that another deputy on duty that night, Amanda Parks, left the booking area at one point to conduct checks on the jail floor and that she called dispatch to summon medics to the jail several hours before Mays’ death.
Surveillance video, and investigative reports, indicates medics came to check on another inmate in the same area of the jail several hours before Mays died.
The defense, in its response, also asked the court to throw out several allegations from the initial complaint — including the contention that the defendants’ acts and omissions “showed a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm to Eddie Mays and conscious indifference to the health, safety and welfare of Eddie Mays and other similarly situated persons.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0376,