The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office has reported that a woman died in jail last weekend.
In a 206-word press release issued on Tuesday, Oct. 27, officials stated that detention officers were conducting inmate checks on Saturday, Oct. 24, when alerted that Dani Miller, 47, was unresponsive and not breathing inside her cell. She was pronounced dead at the jail at an undisclosed time.
Authorities stated that an initial autopsy indicated there were no signs of trauma. The cause and manner of death remain pending toxicology results and a forensic pathologist’s final report.
According to officials, Miller was arrested by Cortez police about 12:19 p.m. on Oct. 23, and jailed on two outstanding warrants for failure to appear on assault and harassment charges. When booked, Miller was highly intoxicated, registering .289 on a Breathalyzer at the jail.
With a blood alcohol level between .25 and .30, people reportedly display general inertia, near total loss of motor functions, little response to stimuli, inability to stand or walk, vomiting and incontinence. They may also lose consciousness or fall into a stupor.
New medical protocol needed?
Current Montezuma County jail guidelines only require individuals with a .3 BAC level or higher to receive a medical clearance before they are booked into jail. Officials have confirmed that Miller didn’t receive medical treatment before she was jailed.
“We’re looking at lowering that BAC level,” Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said.
On Tuesday, Nowlin said he was still working to review and adopt hundreds of new operating procedures and guidelines, indicating a new protocol to accept medically cleared inmates at the jail remained under review. When taking office, he promised voters that he would revamp department policies.
“I don’t want any deaths in the jail,” Nowlin said. “It’s not right.”
In the last half of 2013, three other inmates died while in custody at the county jail, including a 47-year-old Cortez man and a 38-year-old Arizona man who were highly intoxicated and cleared by hospital staff. The third death was an apparent suicide. The 2013 incidents occurred before Nowlin took office.
Asked to explain how the two men in 2013 could have been deemed healthy enough to be jailed, Nowlin was quick to respond.
“The hospital cleared them when they shouldn’t be cleared,” he said.
Southwest Memorial Hospital spokesperson Haley Leonard declined to comment regarding hospital protocols for clearing intoxicated individuals in government custody.
Sheriff calls for detox center
On Tuesday, Nowlin made another vow.
“I’m going to do everything I can to get a detox center here,” he said.
Reiterating that the jail wasn’t an approved health-care facility with medically trained staff, Nowlin said a local detox center would make the community safer and more viable.
“We need a solution to the problem,” he said.
The National Commission on Correctional Health Care recommends that inmate deaths be reviewed to determine the appropriateness of clinical care; whether policy changes are needed; procedures or practices are warranted; and to identify issues that require further study.
A friend and Salvation Army volunteer in Moab described Miller as a “beautiful” woman, despite problems with substance abuse and mental health.
“Dani had a really special quality,” said Sara Melnicoff.
Miller, who reportedly had family in Denver, lived a productive life while in Moab, was employed at a recycling center and had a home, Melnicoff said.
“I tried to help her,” said Melnicoff.
According to Melnicoff, Miller’s life started to unravel in Utah after she fell victim to domestic violence. It’s unknown why she relocated to Cortez.
“It was a tragic life with a tragic ending,” she said.