To begin with here is the grossly insensitive statement from our Sheriff:
Changes in the booking process for the Humboldt County jail were already in the works before Daren Borges died, Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said. One of the main differences in the process is the jail has a fulltime registered nurse who started in 2016.
But Honsal said he isn’t certain whether the presence of a registered nurse would have made a difference in Daren Borges’ death.“It’s really very difficult to say,” he said.
Annually there are more than 3,200 people brought into the jail who are suspected of being under the influence or drunk in public, according to Honsal.
He said Borges did not display signs out of the ordinary and the correctional officers did what they were supposed to do. A jail screening form noted “Daren was not oriented to self, date, time and place,” according to a statement from the Borges’ family’s attorneys.
“There sheriff’s office didn’t kill this person, the dealer did,” Honsal said, adding that while he is sorry for her loss, he believes Stephany Borges should be going after the person who supplied her son with the lethal dose of methamphetamine.
Honsal said Daren Borges would have either died in the streets or the jail with the amount of methamphetamine found inside him.
“This is a very difficult case,” Honsal said. “Our guys feel like they did everything possible.”
Guest post from Robert Poyourow Daren Borges’ step-father.
Had Sheriff Honsal attended the trial, as I did, he wouldn’t have made such statements.
The jury heard all the evidence and listened to these same arguments, and then decided UNANIMOUSLY that the county and the three officers were liable. The jury found Sheriff Downey and Officer Hershberger not liable. Honsal did not watch the jail videos. The jury did, and he should, too.
I am Daren Borges’ step-father. We lived in Eureka and I practiced law there until 2005. I attended the full trial and testified about my wife’s loss. I write this letter to add to the coverage in the hope that the additional evidence the jury heard will aid your readers. I will address three points.
Although the jail policy was adequate, the defendants weren’t following it. Instead, they testified that they felt free to improvise and take short cuts that violated written policies. That was deliberate, not negligent behavior. Even though the defendants’ own expert emphasized how critically important the written policies were, the officers argued in their testimony that they were just “guidelines” subject to their interpretation and discretion. Worse, the jail videos also showed that the required policies were violated. Daren was in acute distress. Policy required that Daren be oriented to himself. The officer’s form said he was not. The officers admitted that he was mumbling and incoherent. Policy required that a set of questions be posed (by them) and answered by the detainee; and if not, then the detainee must be taken to the hospital. The video made it clear that they didn’t, and couldn’t, complete the eight to 10-minute exercise on a detainee mumbling incoherently and in acute distress in the one to two minutes they said they took to complete their procedures. The video is clear.
Essentially, the officers short-circuited the policy, and substituted their own judgment for that of a qualified medical professional. They didn’t just err in that judgment, they failed to follow policy that required the judgment be made by others. The jury simply didn’t believe the officers. The jury understood, and rendered its verdict accordingly.
The case was not one of “negligence,” but the violation of a Constitutional right — a claim that involves much more than a simple error of judgment — an argument that the defense raised, but which the judge and the jury completely rejected. This Constitutional violation didn’t happen by accident. It was an intentional act when the officer knew or should have known that serious harm would follow. This is the “reasonable person” objective legal standard. It doesn’t matter, as the officers argued, “we didn’t intend harm.” Such a “subjective” standard is not the law, and it is hardly a standard at all. Such a standard would not even require the officers to follow their own policies.
Last, plaintiff’s emergency room physician expert explained that in over 200 meth overdose cases he had not lost one patient from an overdose, including many with higher doses than Daren! He testified that had Daren been taken to the emergency room he would have been saved. The amount in his system was toxic and fatal only because he received no treatment. Defendant’s expert pathologist had to agree. He concluded his testimony by admitting that only one out of 100 suffering such meth intoxication die from it if they are treated in time. The ones who have died are the ones he sees. Nor was he helpful when he admitted that he only dealt with dead people, and then testified that the last live patient he had seen was over 35 years ago.
The award was not just because we were sympathetic, although we were. Nor was it just because we had gifted and talented lawyers, though they were. The award is best understood because the jury heard all the evidence and found the officers were wrong under the law, and thus liable.
Now we know what happened, and so does the public. The county was found liable. Honsal has much to do, and it should start with cleaning up his officers and their practices.