Infighting among jail staff. Inmates deprived of necessary medications. A heroin addict left to suffer potentially life-threatening withdrawals.
Defense attorneys for embattled former Sheriff Terry Maketa painted a stark picture Wednesday of the state of inmate care at the county jail under the leadership of former Correctional Healthcare Companies Inc. (CHC) administrator Wendy Habert.
Their goal was to reframe Habert's December 2013 firing by the jail's private health care contractor not as illegal retaliation - the basis for Maketa's extortion charges - but for poor work performance and a divisive, heavy-handed management style.
"Wendy Habert had her own chain of command: It was Wendy Habert," said retired sheriff's Lt. John Brandt, who worked with Habert at the jail and offered a withering assessment of her as someone who prioritized her company's budget over providing quality care for inmates and people in the jail's detoxification ward.
The defense began presenting witnesses Wednesday morning after the prosecution rested its four-day case against Maketa ahead of schedule. By early afternoon, the defense also rested, setting up closing arguments for Thursday morning before a wide-ranging abuse-of-power case against Maketa goes to the jury for deliberations.
Maketa, 53, did not take the stand in his defense. The once-powerful lawman faces four counts left unresolved by a July mistrial. The most serious - extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion - relate to allegations that Maketa threatened to terminate CHC's $5 million-per-year contract unless they fired her immediately.
Maketa, a popular sheriff once floated by fellow Republicans as a possible candidate for higher office, could be eligible for up to six years in prison if convicted on those allegations.
Habert is a former confidant of Maketa who directed his three successful campaigns for sheriff. After leaving his employ, she took a lucrative position with CHC - then the jail's private medical services provider - overseeing its doctors and nurses.
Brandt and two other defense witnesses who worked with Habert described a manager who insisted that things be done her way, even if it meant inmates weren't receiving appropriate care.
Aside from her dictatorial demeanor, Brandt said, Habert was slow to accommodate inmates who needed their medications at certain times, occasionally withholding them altogether if inmates asked to take them after a meal rather than when they were offered.
Theresa Lawrence, director of the jail's detoxification ward, described how Habert declined her request to get immediate medical care for a heroin addict suffering withdrawals that left him vomiting and shaking, with "charlie horses on his leg almost the size of my fist." After her refusal, the man was admitted to a hospital and spent three days in the intensive-care unit, Lawrence said.
Lawrence mentioned another case in which Habert refused to take a woman from the detox unit to see the medical ward's doctor for her urinary tract infection, saying the woman should wait for her release several days later, despite the risk of potentially deadly sepsis, according to Lawrence. Prosecutors pointed out through follow-up questioning that both inmates were evaluated by jail nurses.
Stacy Hobson, a former CHC administrator who supervised Habert, said she constantly butted heads with Habert, who often fell back on claims of having a special relationship with Maketa and threats to take their disputes directly to him.
Events Habert's critics described happened months or more before she was eventually fired in December 2013, a point that wasn't lost on at least one juror, who passed up a written question to Hobson asking why Habert wasn't terminated sooner, rather than late 2013, when prosecutors say she began to draw scrutiny for reasons having little to do with medical care.
Under cross examination, Lawrence acknowledged that she wasn't aware of CHC's many contractual obligations, or of the staffing challenges that might have informed Habert's decisions about how medical services should be prioritized.
Brandt acknowledged that his problems with the jail's medical services went beyond Habert, and Hobson confirmed that she never suggested firing Habert - only that she be issued a written warning for her clashes with co-workers.
Several prosecution witnesses said Habert enjoyed strong support from the Maketa administration until what he took as back-to-back insults from her late in 2013. Her first strike was refusing to help his chosen successor, Paula Presley, mount a sheriff's campaign and instead supported his rival Bill Elder, jurors were told. Her second strike came when she reported a sheriff's commander for making lewd comments to her. Maketa ultimately dismissed her complaint rather than referring it for a full investigation, as required by the sheriff's written policies.
"If you were deemed a supporter of Elder, you were targeted," said Jacqueline Kirby. Kirby, a former Maketa confidant who now works as Elder's spokeswoman, was the prosecution's final witness.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Larry E. Schwartz denied a defense motion for a summary acquittal, ruling that evidence against Maketa was sufficient for a jury to consider.
Court resumes at 8:30 a.m. Thursday with jury instructions followed by closing arguments.