Key evidence in Maricopa County Jail death suit of Deborah Braillard 'destroyed'

PHOENIX - A Valley daughter who fought for seven years to get justice for her dead mother has won a multi-million dollar settlement from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Taxpayers will to have to fork over $3.25 million after attorneys for Arpaio, MCSO and the county chose to settle another jail death lawsuit.

Why would lawyers suddenly decide to settle after years of legal wrangling and three weeks of trial testimony rather than allow the case to go to the jury?

The ABC15 Investigators have obtained court records, documents and a judge's ruling that show the jury was set to hear how key evidence in the case of Deborah Braillard was lost, deleted or "destroyed" by MCSO in an attempt to cover up the death of a Valley mother.

Jennifer Braillard filed the lawsuit after her mother Deborah was left to die in a Maricopa County jail.

Deborah Braillard was an insulin dependent diabetic who was arrested on a minor drug charge when her car broke down on New Year's Day 2005.

During three agonizing days in custody at the Estrella Jail, she was deprived of insulin and denied medical care despite pleas from fellow detainees.

By the time she was rushed to the hospital, Deborah Braillard had slipped into a diabetic coma.

Jail officials claim Deborah never told jailers she was a diabetic.

Last week the trial over Deborah Braillard's death ended abruptly when defense attorneys agreed to a settlement just days before a jury would have been asked to decide the case.

A judge had already ruled that Braillard's family could seek both compensatory and punitive damages due to facts that suggested a deliberate indifference on the part of detention officers and jail officials.

But even before the case went to trial, Braillard's attorney told the ABC15 Investigators that key evidence had been "destroyed" by MCSO.

During the trial there was testimony from numerous witnesses indicating that key evidence in the case was missing or destroyed.

Former Maricopa County Jail Medical Director Dr. Todd Wilcox, a highly respected jail medical administrator, testified that he saw with his own eyes that evidence was destroyed.

He testified that on one occasion he came back to his office after getting a sandwich and somebody was remotely manipulating his computer to enter and delete files.

Dr. Jacqueline Moore, a renowned corrections medical consultant hired by Maricopa County testified that in both the Braillard case and another MCSO jail death case she reviewed, there were indications that records pertaining to jail deaths were altered, lost or destroyed.

The ABC15 Investigators obtained a transcript of a court proceeding in which a judge ruled that the jury would be instructed about four key pieces of evidence that were missing or destroyed.

The judge ruled the jury could be told that the destruction of evidence could be considered to be an attempt to hide the truth about Deborah Braillard's death.

We've learned those pieces of evidence include:

  • Deborah Braillard's medical screening form was supposed to be completed during intake and printed out immediately. MCSO tried to claim the form proved Deborah never told jailers she was a diabetic, but the form produced by MCSO was dated three days after Deborah actually went through intake and 10 hours after she was rushed to the hospital in an irreversible diabetic coma.
  • A videotape of Deborah going through the intake screening is also mysteriously missing. That was a key piece of evidence because Braillard's attorney argued that a jail official took just 59 seconds to complete her medical screening—far too short a time for a proper assessment of a detainee's medical needs.
  • Attorneys for the defendants tried to argue that Braillard told friends and family that she intentionally withheld the fact she was diabetic during phone conversations she had while in custody. All inmate calls at the jail are tape recorded but when it came time to produce the tapes of Deborah's calls—they had been erased.
  • Two jail guards who testified they failed to get proper medical care for Deborah wrote reports after she died. However, both original memos were destroyed.
  • Jennifer Braillard said her mother wore a bracelet that identified her as a diabetic but when her personal property was returned to the family after she died—the bracelet was missing.

Today, Jennifer Braillard is a mother herself and she said she would have liked a chance to talk to Deborah about being a mom.

With two little girls of her own, Jennilee, as her mother called her, always thought her daughters would have their grandmother around to see them grow up.

But Deborah Braillard never got the chance to meet her two granddaughters.

Jennifer Braillard told the ABC15 Investigators before the trial started that she filed the lawsuit because despite whatever mistakes her mother made in her life, she didn't deserve to die.

She said nobody deserved to be treated the way her mother was treated while in custody.

During the trial, Braillard's attorney Michael Manning called witness after witness including Sheriff Joe Arpaio in an effort to expose a long history of problems at the jail.

Manning has cited numerous reports commissioned and paid for by the county dating back as far as 1996 detailing a "culture of cruelty" where inmates are routinely denied humane healthcare at Maricopa County Jails.

Study after study found the jails are dangerous understaffed.

The studies document unconstitutional conditions and a deliberate indifference to detainee's medical needs.

Under questioning from Michael Manning, Sheriff Joe Arpaio admitted on the stand under oath that he couldn't deny making the statement that even if he had a billion dollars he wouldn't change the way he runs his jails.

Lawyers for MCSO, Arpaio and the county tried to blame Deborah Braillard's death on her.

They claim she never divulged that she was a diabetic but records indicate jail officials had the information about Braillard's condition in their computers from a previous incarceration.

And several detention officers admitted on the stand that they knew Deborah Braillard was suffering from life threatening symptoms but they never got proper medical attention for her.

The $3.2 million settlement is set to be approved at a public hearing in front of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Neither side can comment on the case because a gag order is still in effect.

But our investigation shows that in addition to the $3.25 million settlement that taxpayers will be on the hook for, the county spent approximately another $2 million on legal fees fighting the lawsuit for the last seven years.

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