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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"It just freaked me out because I don't think in my experience . . . I don't think she had been on drugs."

But the guards in the jail say different.

"Don't worry about Deborah Braillard. She's getting what she deserves. She's coming off drugs," is how Tomiani remembers it.

The inmates understand the drill, says Tomanini.

Tomanini described a retarded inmate brutalized for her sass.

"It broke my heart. I had to put my head under my blankets, and I cried. It broke my heart to see something like that."

Tomanini's experience with the medical clinic underscores the sense of neglect.

"I got sick and I was running a fever, and I had put a tank order in — that's what they call it for medical. And two months went along, and I didn't get any better. I was waiting for medical to call me . . . You had to fight to get medical attention.

Consider: It was standard procedure to collapse on the floor in order to get medical attention. Otherwise you might well be ignored by an overwhelmed medical clinic. Inmates report that guards would actually instruct them to drop, to collapse. Only then would a call — man down! — go out to the nurses.

Deborah Braillard, mother

Do I think? I think not.

I am aware.

I am aware of the I-will-nots:

I will not see my granddaughter, Kaylynn, walk. I will not give her my finger to steady her early toddles. I will not go down a slide with her. I will not put a Band-Aid on her owie.

I will not get a chance to be a better grandmother than I was a mom. Ever.

Consider: Deputies find methamphetamine in Braillard's purse about midnight on January 1, 2005. She is with a small group of users whose car breaks down in a parking lot on the west side when officers happen upon them.

She is admitted into the jail about 2 a.m. on January 2. Though the entire prison is videotaped around the clock, the sheriff is unable to produce any film of Deborah's early custody.

Historically, when inmates are killed or injured, Sheriff Arpaio loses evidence and incriminating video surveillance or produces video so degraded it is unwatchable.

Almost a full day after her initial booking, Braillard is transferred from the intake jail downtown to the all-female Estrella jail in west Phoenix. For the next 60 hours, guards at Estrella assume, mistakenly, that her wretched condition is the result of her kicking drugs.

This lethal mistake is aided and abetted by a poultice of organizational neglect combined with personal insensitivity that overwhelms thin outbreaks of humanity.

On the afternoon of January 4, 2005, guard Randall Harenberg calls the jail's medical clinic, 40 feet from where Braillard was held. No one comes to assess Braillard. The medical clinic has no record of his call. No jailer has any further contact with the clinic until the morning the ambulance arrives. No guard summons a supervisor.

Though nurses visit the cell twice a day to distribute pills, no deputy asks the nurses to look in on Braillard.

Sandra Garfias, guard

(2007 deposition)

"There was really nothing going on in the dorm that night [January 4], except we had one inmate kicking drugs. At the time that I worked, [medical] typically did not see inmates that were coming off drugs."

Nor is Garfias trained to differentiate which drug it is that someone might be coming off of.

She does understand that drug withdrawal can be lethal.

Still, she calls no one.

Dr. Laura Pieri, board certified in psychiatry, neurology, and forensic medicine and past medical director of Arizona's West Yavapai Guidance Clinic and Windhaven Psychiatric Hospital. Currently in private practice.

(2010 interview)

"Anyone in alcohol or barbiturate withdrawal needs medical supervision, and they need it immediately, as soon as you see the first sign. Of those who go into delirium tremens, the DTs, 20 percent die."

Dr. Pieri adds that science is discovering new and alarming facts about another class of drugs that can be lethal in withdrawal: slow-acting benzodiazepines. Commonly prescribed, and abused, such medications as Xanax, Halcium, and Librium, among others, can be toxic for those trying to kick.

Sandra Garfias, guard

(2007 deposition)

"I heard Braillard vomiting, more than twice, [on the evening of January 4].

"She had been throwing up, and I remember her saying her stomach hurt. I know that the inmates around her changed her bag because they asked me for a bag and also a change of clothing, because she had soiled herself . . . I told her [that] her stomach hurt because she was throwing up and coming off drugs."

In fact, Deborah Braillard is an insulin-dependent diabetic. She has not had insulin since her arrest January 1. Her body is shutting down. She is dying.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey