Insult to Mortal Injury

The short life and times of Johnny Jardine, Part 2

ER nurse Joyce Schiminski is a key witness. In a deposition, she provided a disturbing account of Johnny's demise.

She testified that she took the call in the ER when the ambulance attendants alerted the hospital that they were bringing Johnny in. The EMTs did not say Johnny was not breathing or had no pulse. There was no urgency in their voices, and they never called again to say his condition had worsened.

She was asked: "Do you expect that if it was anybody's perception in the field that John was about to die, that the patch recording would have stated so?"

Schiminski responded: "Yes, it would have."

The nurse said she met the ambulance at the entry to the emergency room. As Johnny was unloaded and wheeled in, nobody on the emergency crew was performing CPR. Johnny had been turned over onto his back by now, but was not "bagged" to force air into his lungs, as he should have been if his caretakers had noticed he wasn't breathing. Schiminski testified that Johnny's appearance so alarmed her that she actually stopped the gurney to assess his condition.

"I said something on the order of: 'Guys, I don't think he's breathing. You want to start CPR and get him into room 1,'" Schiminski testified.

She could not recall with certainty whether any heart-monitor pads had been attached to Johnny when he was brought in. She said she attached pads once he was inside the ER.

She explained that she tried to insert an IV into Johnny's arm, but couldn't because it was handcuffed beneath him. "I need these handcuffs off," she told her colleagues. Someone located a key "within a few minutes," she said. But resuscitative chest compressions had to be stopped while Johnny was rolled to his side and the handcuffs were removed. "I remember asking them to hurry up," the nurse said.

Schiminski said she was "upset" by the whole episode, so concerned about the EMTs' impassive treatment of Johnny that she later voiced her concerns with Dr. Haselhorst and the ER director, Terry Landgraff.

After Johnny's death became news, the state Department of Health Services, which licenses EMTs, contacted Tempe St. Luke's to ask if it was investigating Johnny's death.

Terry Mason of St. Luke's crafted a "Summary of Investigation," which the hospital (possibly mistakenly) released to Manning. Mason concluded that the EMTs had acted appropriately. He vouched for their competence. Mason did, however, note that "one of the nurses on that evening [Schiminski] states that the medics were oblivious to the patient's condition on arrival to the hospital." But he dismisses Schiminski's concern, stating, "I have never found her to be very intuitive or reliable in her assessments or judgments." (Since then, Schiminski has been promoted to charge nurse in the ER.)

More records shenanigans came to light when Tempe St. Luke's responded to the state Department of Health Services' request for information on the case: The "Summary of Investigation" sent to the state was not the one Mason had written. The latter version makes no mention whatsoever of Joyce Schiminski or her concerns.

DHS learned of the existence of the original summary from Manning's office. Still, when she was deposed in September, 18 months after Johnny's death, Schiminski said that nobody from the hospital nor the state had asked to interview her.

Landgraff, the ER director, has testified that the incomplete Summary of Investigation -- the one sent to the state -- was written by the hospital's lawyers. Neither the hospital nor its attorneys returned calls seeking comment.

DHS has launched an investigation into Johnny's death. Kevin Ray, the assistant state attorney general assigned to the case, says it's a "tough one" because the state's investigation is concurrent with the litigation. The lawsuit has had a "chilling effect" on the state probe, he says.

"It makes it more difficult to get the cooperation of the people we need to interview," Ray says.

The defendants are justifiably concerned about the Jardines' lawsuit, and publicity of the case. Their lawyers actually asked a judge to enact a gag order prohibiting release of information to the press. The judge refused. One defense attorney chafed when I informed him I'd obtained a transcript of Joyce Schiminski's deposition.


After constructing complex cases against such notorious characters as Joe Arpaio, Charles Keating and J. Fife Symington III, Michael Manning is surely not as astonished at clumsy cover-ups as he lets on.

He saw evidence tampering when he sued Maricopa County on behalf of the survivors of Scott Norberg, who died in Arpaio's gulag in 1996. The ostensibly "combative" Norberg had been shocked repeatedly with stun guns and strapped into a medieval-looking restraint chair with a towel over his mouth. His head was forced down hard against his chest. He was asphyxiated.

Manning's discovery that the sheriff's office had destroyed or altered evidence helped seal the county's fate. The county gave Norberg's kin $8.5 million.

Manning sees parallels between the Jardine and Norberg cases.

"We could see that the defense here would be that John somehow provoked an assault, just as in the Norberg case. We wanted to protect the family from that sort of behavior," Manning says.

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