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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"One thing about Debbie: I liked her as a person. I liked being over there with her, as opposed to the people I was living with. But I'd only see her three times a week because Debbie's house was so chaotic. There'd be 20 people in there sometimes. You know, all through the house."

In 2002, Lisa and everyone she was living with got busted. She quit using. Went cold turkey.

But she didn't lose her old friends. One druggy stole a cross that belonged to her son. It had enormous sentimental value. Debbie found the religious symbol and returned it to Lisa.

Then, Debbie needed a favor. She had to do a drug screening as part of her probation and wondered if the now-clean Lisa would do it for her.

"I just walked into the [Department of Motor Vehicles] and said I needed a duplicate because I lost my driver's license. They gave me a sheet of paper to fill out, and I put Deborah's address on it. They asked if I wanted the same photo they had on file, and I said, 'No, I'll take a new one.'"

Armed with phony identification, she went into a Treatment Assessment Screening Center for a urine analysis posing as Deborah Braillard.

"I was very nervous. I was talking myself out of it because I kept thinking . . . if my sister finds out. But I did it for her because she was a friend. I just felt bad for her. Plus, she gave me $50."

Press described a scene the rest of the world has a hard time coming to grips with.

"Meth makes you lose weight. Some people, it really affects their skin, their arms. People pick at their face. It messes with your teeth. You don't want to eat. You don't want to sleep. We just straighten things up. I mean, I don't know if you've ever seen a lot of people that do drugs. They collect a lot of things. They collect junk. We'd just organize it and listen to music."

Straight or stoned, Press remembered Jennylee.

"Jennifer would come by to see if her mother was okay. I know they had a good relationship, Deborah and her daughter. I know they were very close. That I do know. Debbie spoke highly of Jennifer."

Jennylee Braillard, daughter

(2010 interviews)

On the evening of January 17, Deborah's daughter arrived at the hospital only to learn that her mom had been awake earlier that same day. But now she was again unconscious.

"When I first got there, I took her hand, as I always did, and started talking to her. And she squeezed my hand."

The daughter's world was spinning out of control.

"I couldn't believe they didn't call me. The person I needed to talk to was her."

Dr. Todd Wilcox, former director,

County Health Services

(2008 deposition)

One month before Deborah Braillard was arrested, Dr. Todd Wilcox was hired by Maricopa County to revitalize and reform the clinic dispensing medical care inside Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jail.

This was the medical clinic, according to Arpaio's guards, whose nurses and doctors refused to see inmates who were kicking drugs.

Dr. Wilcox found a rat's nest but not rats.

"The people who work on the line level with CHS . . . want to do a good job. Nobody comes to work wanting to hurt anybody . . . They really want to take care of their patients . . . They are heroes for working within the system."

But the system is a beast.

As long ago as 1996, the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division found that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jails violated the Constitution and that healthcare in them was "seriously deficient."

In 1997, Arpaio's jails were the only county jail, to be investigated by Amnesty International, which condemned the conditions in the sheriff's jails.

Yet not only were the details of the federal legal proceedings withheld from Dr. Wilcox, he was misled as to their import.

"The details of the amended judgment were not reviewed with us and, in fact, the information that was presented to us was that this was pretty much a dead case."

He was not shown the March 25, 1996, letter from the Department of Justice that found that detention officers were not responsive, that inmates were not adequately assessed during intake by personnel with sufficient medical training, and that appointments with healthcare were frequently missed.

He was never shown the 1999 binding agreement between the DOJ and the county regarding unconstitutional healthcare conditions. On page 3 of that letter, the sheriff promised that anybody doing intake screening of inmates would be appropriately trained by CHS. Furthermore, intake screeners would take a look at arrest reports as part of screening. (Braillard's intake deputy had not been trained, did not look at the police report that documented her need for medication, and blew through detailed paperwork. The screening process involved seven different computer screens that had to be individually filled out and saved. Yet Deputy Cindy Rodriguez did it, as noted, in 59 seconds)

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey