Judge says Utah nurse accused of causing inmate’s death is not guilty

Dec 7, 2022, 1:53 PM
Jana Clyde, a nurse, appears in court in February 2018. An 8th District judge on Monday found her n...
Jana Clyde, a nurse, appears in court in February 2018. An 8th District judge on Monday found her not guilty of negligently causing an inmate's death in the Duchesne County Jail. (Pool photo)
(Pool photo)

DUCHESNE, Utah — Nurse Jana Clyde is not guilty of negligent homicide in the 2016 death of a Duchesne County Jail inmate, a judge ruled Monday.

Clyde was charged in 2017, accused of causing a jail inmate’s death by not doing enough to care for the woman. Five years later, 8th District Judge Don M. Torgerson found that Clyde is not guilty of the crime.

Madison Jensen, 21, died from “profound dehydration” while an inmate in the Duchesne County Jail on Dec. 1, 2016, after being incarcerated for almost five days.

Clyde, 55, was the only full-time nurse at the jail and was charged with negligent homicide, a class A misdemeanor. A jury trial was held for Clyde in June, but after about 10 hours of deliberations, each juror told 8th District Judge Don M. Torgerson that there was no possibility that the group could reach a unanimous verdict and the judge declared a mistrial.

After a bench trial in early October and about two months of considering the case, Torgerson determined Monday that Clyde was not guilty.

“(Jensen’s) death resulted from many failures. First, her father demanded her arrest as a path to drug treatment. Then she was arrested and held at the jail on specious probable cause. And finally, institutional failure by the jail staff to recognize and treat her symptoms,” the judge’s verdict said.

Jensen had been regularly using heroin before her arrest, but the judge’s ruling said she genuinely wanted to be sober and repair family relationships. She was arrested on Nov. 27, 2016, after her father called police to report that he had found tinfoil with heroin residue inside Jensen’s room.

The judge’s decision said the officer who responded, Jared Harrison, “seemed genuinely concerned” and spent over an hour looking for a solution that did not involve jail, including deploying a dog who did not find evidence of any heroin in Jensen’s room.

In the decision, Torgerson relates what happened while Jensen was in jail and each of her interactions as they were presented at trial, including where she was moved, when she was given Gatorade and reports of her vomiting. Multiple people testified that it was not unusual to see inmates in the jail who faced situations similar to Jensen’s.

The judge concluded that there was a substantial risk of death for Jensen and that this risk was unjustifiable; meeting one of the requirements for Clyde to be found guilty. However, the judge said he could not conclude that Clyde deviated from the typical standard of care — which means the second requirement for a guilty verdict was not met.

In the decision, Torgerson said Jensen’s symptoms were expected, and because of that, multiple officers did not report concerns to Clyde. Plus, Jensen did not provide an accurate account of her medical history or drug use, which led Clyde to not perceive the risk of death.

“Madison maintained that she had the flu and was not detoxing from heroin. And sadly, Madison was not vocal with jail staff about her condition during the days she was in jail,” the verdict states.

The court determined Clyde followed the standard of care at the jail for opioid withdrawal in 2016 and followed practices to monitor vitals, give Gatorade, check on symptoms and notify the medical provider if symptoms persist.

Although Torgerson determined there were institutional failures at the jail that contributed to Jensen’s death, the question was whether Clyde deviated from what another person in her circumstance would do.

“Nurse Clyde and all of the jail staff should have done things differently. But none of them perceived the risk of death here, even though everyone had similar medical training,” the verdict said.

Prior to Jensen’s death, jail staff were told to give inmates who were going through withdrawals Gatorade to keep them hydrated, but it was not typically entered onto their medical charts. Since Jensen’s death, the Gatorade has always been charged and the jail monitors signs of opiate withdrawal.

Jensen’s father, Jared Jensen, filed a federal civil lawsuit against Duchesne County, Clyde and other individuals claiming that the death should not have happened.

Claims against some defendants, including Duchesne County, have been dismissed but claims against Clyde and Logan Clark, a physician’s assistant who worked as a contracted medical provider for the jail, are still ongoing.

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Judge says Utah nurse accused of causing inmate’s death is not guilty