MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. – New details have emerged in the Defenders investigation of a woman who died while serving a 30-day sentence in the Macomb County Jail.
Jennifer Meyers, 37, was sentenced to 30 days in jail for being behind on her child-support payments. The Defenders have learned Meyers was being held behind bars as part of a policy called "pay or stay" that puts people who can't afford to pay court fines in jail until they can.
Court records show that a friend of the court notified Judge Katheryn George that Meyers was behind $1,700 in child support. A bench warrant was issued and Meyers was arrested in a deadbeat-parent sweep. George said Meyers had to pay $500 or spend 30 days in jail.
Meyers died in the Macomb County Jail from sepsis -- a virus. Medical staff never took her to the hospital for treatment.
Local 4 legal expert Neil Rockind said jail should be an option only for deadbeat parents with money who are avoiding payments, not for people too poor to pay.
"This woman's death is going to be hanging over the legal system's dead for awhile," Rockind said. "A person who doesn't have any money should not be ordered to pay money, and they certainly shouldn't be threatened with jail if they don't."
Meyers' parents said going to jail only hurt her chances of providing for her children.
"It was a child-support sweep," said Russell Hubble, Meyers' father. "They are very proud of that in Macomb County, how they sweep people up for child support and incarcerate them."
Now that Meyers has died behind bars, her children are without a mother and without her potential financial support.
"She was a loving person, a caring person, and they had no right," said Diane Hubble, Jennifer Meyers' mother. "They had no right to take her life."
Rockind said judges need to rethink jail sentences for the indignant, insisting the fines and time locked up often create bigger problems than the original offense.
"This horrible, sad tale was over a woman who could not afford to pay $91 a month," Rockind said.
Witnesses said they asked jail guards and medical staff to help Meyers and that their requests were ignored. A lawsuit has been filed in federal court by the Meyers family.
Meyers didn't have an attorney. She couldn't afford her own and waived her right to a court-appointed attorney. She ended up representing herself.
Rockind said people should always have an attorney, even if it's a free, court-appointed attorney.
Parents heartbroken over daughter's death
Meyers' family was torn apart after her death in the Macomb County Jail.
Meyers' 30-day sentence ended up being a life sentence after she was escorted into the Macomb County Jail and died from sepsis 12 days later.
Thousands of viewers have responded to the Local 4 Defenders' story, and many of them want to know, 'where is the human dignity for inmates?' If someone is so sick that they're sweating and curled up in a ball, suffering in pain, why aren't guards and medical staff giving them the attention anyone would expect and deserve?
Meyers' parents said their daughter was more than an inmate. She was a mother, a daughter and a sister. They said she almost didn't make it into the world because she was born premature -- weighting 3 pounds and 5.5 ounces. She barely survived.
"People were running around, they were hollering on the P.A.," Russell Hubble said.
"She was a fighter," Diane Hubble said. "She was such a fighter; any baby that has to go through all of that."
Diane and Russell Hubble said their daughter was a happy child, playing T-ball and joining the Girl Scouts.
"She actually ended up getting the Silver Award, which is the highest award a Girl Scout can get," Diane Hubble said.
Meyers got married and had children, but a back problem turned into a prescription-pill problem, which turned into a heroin problem. She was divorced and it was best for the children that their father have custody.
"It's horrible," Diane Hubble said. "It is. It's devastating. It destroyed her."
Meyers soon fell behind on child-support payments.
When Meyers was sentenced to 30 days in jail for nonpayment, there was a sense of relief.
"You just think, 'Good, I know where she is,'" Diane Hubble said. "I don't have to worry about her that she's safe, that she will be fed, she will be taken care of. If she gets sick, she will have medical care."
Then, Meyers' parents found out their daughter was dead from acute sepsis, a virus that made her very sick. According to a federal lawsuit, jail and medical staff never took her to a hospital.
"They explained that, you know, they saw Jennifer at breakfast, saw Jennifer at lunchtime, and when she didn't show up for dinner, they found her dead on the floor," Russell Hubble said.
When the Hubbles demanded information about the death, the story didn't add up.
"Well, she was in there 10 days, she lost 17 pounds," Diane Hubble said. "That's a lot of weight. That's a lot of weight to lose. The last four or five days, she was sick and progressively got worse. Many inmates have come forward."
Meyers died July 7, 2013, but video obtained by the Local 4 Defenders shows the scene following her death and interviews with other inmates who said Meyers grew sicker each day, sweating profusely with a foul smell.
"She was literally laying in bed cuddled up like this, not even able to move," a witness said.
They claim she sought medical help for days.
"She's not feeling well and the nurses aren't doing crap about it and the officers don't give her the time of day," a witness said.
"All they had to do was call Medstar, that's all they had to do," Diane Hubble said. "They could have taken her to the hospital right around the corner."
The Hubbles thought their daughter would be safe in jail, and they don't understand why she was allowed to slowly deteriorate into death. They want to know why medical staff didn't do more to save her.
"If the inmates knew she was sick, certainly any deputy that was working during any of that time should have recognized the fact that she was sick," Diane Hubble said. "Nobody did anything."
They want to know how in this day and age, in a country as advanced as America, a person can slowly die over a period of several days in front of medical staff, guards and other inmates.
"Who would ever think?" Russell Hubble said. "Who would ever think this is going to happen to your child?"
The Hubbles said they know their daughter wasn't perfect, but they believe she deserved the human dignity of a trip to the hospital. They're speaking out so the unnecessary jail deaths come to an end.
"She didn't want to die," Diane Hubble said. "That choice was taken away from her."
The jail is run by the Sheriff's Department, and because of the lawsuit, they will not comment on the case. But following what happened with David Stojefski's death, they said they found no wrongdoing and pointed out that guards who are sheriff's deputies let the privately trained medical staff decide who needs to be hospitalized.
They said that since the Defenders started reporting on jail deaths, they have become much quicker to send inmates to the hospital when they ask for medical help.
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Hubbles warn of drug addiction
Meyers' parents warned others about the dangers of drug addiction.
Meyers' death had nothing to do with her heroin addiction directly, but the addiction did trigger the chain of events that ultimately landed her behind bars.
Meyers died from a virus in the Macomb County Jail, and she was sent to jail because she spent her money feeding a drug addiction instead of paying child support. Her parents hoped the story will help other families.
"A lot of emergency rooms, you know, you go to an ER for pain," said Diane Hubble, Meyers' mother. "What do they give you? Opioids. That leads to opioid addiction."
When the pills run out, addicts have to try buying them on the street. But that's expensive, so many people, including Meyers, turn to heroin.
"You're not going to do that very long, but I will tell you what will fix all of your opioid addiction is (if) you go see the dope man," said Russell Hubble, Meyers' father. "He will give you a $10 bag of heroin. You're good for the whole day."
Once addicted to heroin, life changes dramatically.
"It's horrible," Diane Hubble said. "It is. It's devastating. It destroyed her. It attempts to destroy families."
The worry and fear were, at times, unbearable.
"It's the worst thing I've ever experienced, knowing that there's times that they are out on the street, and you don't know where they are," Diane Hubble said.
Meyers' parents said addicts will stop at nothing to get what they need.
"They're in debt to everybody," Russell Hubble said. "They have to get that straight. They borrow, they sell everything they can sell.
"It's the lowest point in their life, but one person that's always going to be paid up to date is the heroin dealer, or they're going to be hunted by the heroin dealer."
Meyers' parents said they tried to take her to rehab.
"There were times when I was so hopeful long-term," Diane Hubble said. "She would be nine months clean, almost a year, and then I don't know, something would happen."
"When they're addicted and they have that craving, it's like, 'OK, I need water, and then I need heroin and then I need food,'" Russell Hubble said.
Meyers lost her kids and then her freedom. She lost her life 12 days into her 30-day sentence. Her parents said addiction took her life, and their hope is that others will take the epidemic seriously, because the next family to see it could be their own.
The family is suing the county and the private medical company working in the jail.