Longform

What's Mom Worth?: When a Woman Became Deathly Ill in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Jail, Guards and Nurses Ignored Her Agony

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Did I want to escape into the infirmary?

Well, I'm not telling. But if that's my crime, it's a harebrained scheme at worst. Who wouldn't prefer an infirmary to a jail cell?

But apparently this wasn't the way to get there.

Jennylee Braillard, daughter

(2010 interviews)

"When Mom was in the hospital, I'd go by her home and feed all the animals. She always had good pets and bad boyfriends. She had to mother all these losers. I give her credit for not using and trying her best. There were no drugs in her system, according to the blood test, when she died.

"The drug issue was a disease. I've tried to figure out what the drug addiction was about. It's a way of growing up. When she was young, all her brothers played around with drugs. Even though she was strong-willed, her drugs were a weakness. But also a comfort.

"After she died, our family divided up the animals. I took the pregnant dog. I raised 11 puppies and searched for loving homes. I found seven. Took the rest to Four Paws, a no-kill shelter, and they found homes for the remaining pups. Kept one for myself."

You know that Deborah Braillard took in men who abused her and drugs. It is also a fact that she came from a family that suffered depression and indulged in alcohol and drugs. You might say self-medication was as genetic as the diabetes.

Jennylee is on another path. She is married to Nathan, a manager at T.J. Maxx, and has built a life around her baby, whose full name is Kaylynn Ann. Deborah's middle name was Ann.

"I love being a mom. She is a lot of fun. I could not imagine a day without her."

Jennylee works at the Family Christian Bookstore and cherishes the memory of her mother.

"She didn't get to meet my husband. She hasn't seen my growth. I have a daughter. She has a granddaughter. She's not here physically but she is spiritually. I know she's out there. She gets glimpses of us, watches over us. Sees us."

Jennylee lives in hope.

"I have complete faith she'll have eternal life."

Consider: On April 21, 2006, Jennylee sued Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the county, and County Health Services. Those who believe legal actions are a lottery ticket that result in easy paydays do not grasp the particulars. The most brutal behavior in a cell block is legally defended by hard men and hard women; and in this particular case, they put the proposition to this young daughter: She didn't really know her mother all the well, did she?

The sheriff's team informed the court that Jennylee's "social interaction with her mom consisted mostly of alleged visits to her mother's home. Those visits were sporadic."

At most, three times a week and on weekends.

Jennylee "was so out of touch with her mother [that] she actually believed she was not on drugs at the time of her arrest."

In fact, an autopsy revealed no drugs in Braillard's body.

The sheriff's attorneys punctuated their point by shoving a mug shot of Deborah in front of Jennylee during a deposition.

Attorney Dennis Wilenchik then informed Jennylee that she had not tried hard enough to save her mother's life, that, if anything, it was not the brutality of the jail guards that killed Deborah Braillard, but rather an ineffectual daughter.

Although Jennylee spoke to the jail's risk manager at 7 a.m. on January 5, 2005, and informed him that her mother was an insulin-dependent diabetic needing immediate attention, the sheriff's lawyer attacked the daughter for not doing enough.

Questions: "Do you think maybe you could have done something, [that] if you had done that, maybe [something could have been done quicker]? You don't think it would be helpful for you to go down to the jail if your mother's about to die to make sure that somebody does something?

"Maybe go down there and bang on the door and ask for some help?"

On October 21, 2008, the court granted motions for summary judgment, in effect, tossing out the federal aspect of the case after 30 months. The judge offered little comment while leaving the state action intact.

Attorney Michael Manning won a strongly worded reversal on appeal, and the entire Braillard case was reinstated. The sheriff's attorneys filed a petition for review, which will be heard by the Arizona Supreme Court on January 4.

Consider: The statements in this account are direct quotes from depositions, transcripts, interviews, and other official documents, though any culling of a record of such Dickensian complexity represents a coarse boiling, at best.

But the words of the dead mother are constructions.

Even a casual reader might ask: Pardon?

Deborah Braillard's thoughts are built, in part, upon personal remembrances, recollections, and a voluminous court record. Deborah Braillard's thoughts are further built by venting sentiments — brutal, yet dormant. when limited by that which is admissible.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey