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Jared Jensen is still waiting for answers to explain how his daughter died after four days in the Duchesne County jail in December.

A trove of documents, surveillance footage and other information that might provide answers and back up or undermine the jail's assertion that 21-year-old Madison Jensen was under medical surveillance when she died is being withheld pending action by the county attorney.

Duchesne County Attorney Stephen Foote is weighing whether any jail employee should be criminally charged after Jensen's death. In doing so, he's waded into territory that other county attorneys avoid because of possible conflicts of interest.

County attorneys in Utah advise sheriff's offices on civil matters, including defending them against lawsuits, and normally would also file criminal charges when warranted.

Several county attorneys elsewhere said that while they were capable of handling in-custody death cases without real conflicts, they are careful to avoid the appearance of conflicts by handing them over to independent attorneys to decide whether to file charges against sheriffs' employees.

"The concern is of course that you wouldn't want somebody to cover up or whitewash or not bring someone to any sort of justice," Uintah County Attorney Mark Thomas said.

Jared Jensen's attorney has filed a notice of claim — a precursor to a wrongful death lawsuit — against Duchesne County, Sheriff David Boren, Lt. Jason Curry, Cpl. Jared Harrison and other, unknown employees. That means Foote could be weighing charges against county employees who could later also be defendants in a civil case.

Jared Jensen said he intends to sue because he wants improvements in the jail to prevent future deaths.

A Tribune investigation found Madison Jensen was one of at least 416 people to die behind bars in Utah since 2000.

Jensen's death, like several others in that time, occurred under questionable circumstances.

Jensen's cellmate, Maria Hardinger, said the two were together for several days and repeatedly called for medical help as Jensen vomited on holding-cell walls and in her bed before she died.

Jensen couldn't keep food or water down and was afraid of dying in jail unless she received help, Hardinger said.

Jensen was in jail several days after using heroin and visiting the hospital, according to an arrest report. Jared Jensen said he told the deputy his daughter had a heart condition she was taking medication for and asked that she be taken to jail for her safety after threatening suicide.

Megan Palmer, who was an inmate in the jail, said she was placed in a cell covered in vomit days after inmates learned Jensen died.

"We had to clean vomit off the walls, off the mattresses," Palmer said.

A spokesman for Boren denied the accounts of Hardinger and other inmates. Lt. Jeremy Curry said Jensen and Hardinger were only together for a few hours and that Jensen was then placed in a cell for medical surveillance before she died of a cardiac arrhythmia caused by dehydration and opiate withdrawal.

"We have actual evidence and not just words to back it up," said Curry, a spokesman for the sheriff.

Duchesne County has declined The Tribune's public-records requests to disclose evidence that could affirm or contradict the official account.

The Uintah County Sheriff's Office, which was brought in to conduct an independent investigation into the death, says its work is finished. But the county has also denied records requests.

Melissa Olsen, a legal assistant for the Uintah County attorney, said her office can't release investigative materials because there's an ongoing Duchesne County probe.

Under the state's open-records law, Olsen released a witness statement and arrest report.

"That's all [that's] able to be released as long as Duchesne County has their [investigation]," Olsen said in a March 29 phone call.

Uintah County detailed what's being withheld. There are 29 interview recordings; 40 photographs; eight holding-cell security camera videos; evidence logs; cell-check and jail-control logs; and other recordings and records — a wealth of information that well might shed light on Madison Jensen's death, the third in just over a year in the Duchesne County jail.

Foote said he had in past cases asked other entities to step in if he felt there was a conflict of interest. In Jensen's case, he said he was awaiting the autopsy report by the Utah medical examiner before deciding on charges.

"That decision process for us is, we look at whether or not we have a reasonable expectation of conviction at trial with the available evidence," Foote said. "That's our relationship when it comes to the criminal side."

Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings in February asked Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to step in and weigh criminal charges after Heather Ashton Miller, a 28-year-old inmate, died with a severely damaged spleen in the Davis County jail.

"The bottom line is when I wear both hats [as criminal prosecutor and civil defender of the county] there's no way when we have reason to believe there are legitimate questions [about Miller's death] there's no way I'll keep our office divisions involved without ... being accused of trying to cover up for the sheriff's office," Rawlings said.

In Salt Lake County, District Attorney Sim Gill said if there is a conflict and he calls in another county to take over a case, he said it's critical to allow that outside office to take full control of the case — all the way through prosecution, if it comes to that.

"If I take it back to reach a different conclusion," Gill said, "that's the epitome of a conflict."

But, he said, determining whether something is a conflict is a case-by-case call.

"If it's clear somebody was engaged in criminal behavior, we've prosecuted people from the [Salt Lake County] Sheriff's Office before," Gill said.

Twitter: @TaylorWAnderson