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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"I saw some incredibly horrible things happen, and I saw no action being taken or visible action being taken to correct the incredible lack of competent healthcare."

Jennylee Braillard, daughter

(2010 interviews)

"When I got to the hospital [where Deborah was now in a coma], she looked horrible. She was chained to the bed with these big old metal chains. There was a tube down her throat. They said that because of the lack of oxygen she would never be the same. Right from the start, they wanted me to unplug her, but I wouldn't."

Deborah Braillard, mother

By the time I left the sheriff's jail, the pain was much worse than childbirth.

Do you think Joe Arpaio understands how I suffered? Shoot, you think Joe Arpaio understands the agony of childbirth. Chop a man's finger off during Lamaze. That would be a start!

These guards are Arpaio's women. A wiser woman than me said it right: "Fear was invented by someone who never had the fear."

My life left me at both ends of my body: I soiled my pillow and soiled my pants. My body was so torqued it tried to escape in convulsions.

They looked past my death rattle and ripped me away from Pumpkin.

I scream to Jesus.

Elaine Clayton, R.N.

(2007/2010 depositions and interviews)

"Inmates sent tank orders — kites — which were requests for medical care. CHS was supposed to prioritize those requests.

"Oftentimes, it would be days before any of them would be looked at . . . The chances of an appointment for care actually coming to fruition were small . . . They were backlogged by hundreds of appointments."

It wasn't simply that the medical clinic ignored inmates kicking drugs — they ignored everyone."There was a person in the jail with cancer on his tongue, and they made him wait to see a doctor. He waited four or five months. When you have a cancerous growth, you see a doctor as soon as possible.

"Another one I'll never forget said, 'I need medical attention. I'm bleeding from my nose, rectum, and mouth.' That person came to the clinic, was not seen, and was returned to the jail. Second visit produced no results. Finally, jailers called on Saturday when I was in. I checked urine and bowel samples and found blood. When I went to get oxygen . . . I got the tank and turned it on. Nothing. The tank was empty. Her vital signs were not within normal limits. She was bleeding internally, and I called for an ambulance.

"The place is incredibly understaffed for both nurses and doctors. I was often the only licensed nurse. I had an aide with no skills. We dealt with 1,200 to 1,500 inmates. If a doctor was sick, no one covered. If there was a meeting, no doctor. They'd schedule 150 visits a day. If they saw 30, they felt good. Yeah, nurses did not respond to withdrawals. Any wonder?"

Although they should have known from their own records that Deborah was a diabetic dependent on insulin, that was no guarantee of treatment, according to Clayton.

"Arpaio brags that he only spends 15 cents a day on inmate food. Well, diabetics are costly because of their special diet and insulin. People are not seen when they are supposed to be treated. Chronic becomes acute. People end up in ICU."

Diabetics left for court at 2 in the morning without insulin.

"By evening, their Accu-Chek readings were 400 and above [normal is 80 to 100]."

"When I addressed this with detention . . . it went nowhere. Nurses working that time frame would simply refuse to perform an Accu-Chek or they wouldn't give insulin."

Clayton was depressed but not surprised by the culture she found in the jail.

"Sheriff Joe's personality permeated the jail. It is a Joe cult. He has the image of being tough. Saw [the] same attitude in [the] nursing staff. It was a magnet for bitter people. Inmates wouldn't be in jail if they hadn't done something wrong. They deserved what they got."

Jennylee Braillard, daughter

(2010 interviews)

"It was just so . . . weird. I talked to my mom on the first of January. Four days later, she's in ICU. She's in coma, and there is all this pressure from the doctors to pull the plug."

Twelve days after arriving at the hospital, on January 17, Deborah Braillard woke up. No one called her daughter, who arrived later that evening to learn the startling news.

"She woke up. She was responsive. She refused water because she wanted soda. She nodded her head to questions."

Lisa Press, Deborah's friend

(2007 deposition)

Press met Deborah in 2000. They were neighbors in west Phoenix and in the same methamphetamine circle. She bought from Deborah and used with Deborah.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey