Ten deputies were placed on paid administrative leave while city authorities investigate the death of an inmate at El Paso County jail Friday night, said a spokeswoman for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
Although authorities have not released information surrounding the circumstances of the man’s death, it involved the use of force, said spokeswoman Jacqueline Kirby. She did not elaborate.
The deputies will receive paid time off in accordance with department policy when deadly force is used, she said. Typically, deputies receive three days of paid leave, though when they return to duty is determined on an individual basis, she said.
“It does not indicate any wrongdoing by any stretch; it is just our policy,” Kirby said.
The inmate, whose name has not been released, died in the medical section of the jail Friday night, officials said in a release Saturday. Despite life-saving measures by deputies, medical staff and first responders, the man died, the release said. Kirby said she did not know the malady that put the man in the medical wing.
Kirby would not specify the type of force used and would not confirm whether the man was under restraint when he lost consciousness.
The Sheriff’s Office plans to announce when it will release surveillance footage of the incident by the end of the week, Kirby said.
The death comes just weeks after a new medical contractor took over at the jail, ending the tenure of another for-profit provider that faced claims of substandard care and neglect throughout its 2½-year term serving the jail.
Tennessee-based Wellpath, which is reportedly the nation’s largest correctional health care provider, began serving the jail Jan. 1. Like other companies that dominate the correctional health care industry, it’s been accused of putting profits ahead of inmates’ medical needs.
For nearly two decades, the jail was served by Correct Care Solutions — which became Wellpath after a merger last year — and other companies under its corporate umbrella.
The county then switched from Correct Care Solutions to Armor Correctional Health Services in 2017 in pursuit of better care and a better deal for taxpayers.
The transition proved tumultuous. Armor has said that it began the job with a “serious backlog of critical tasks,” including more than 1,500 medical requests.
Two inmate deaths last summer highlighted concerns about the quality of care that inmates received under Armor.
Terry West, 57, complained about his health routinely in the days before he died of a hemorrhaging stomach ulcer at the jail in June, according to investigative reports obtained by The Gazette. Deputies were trying to restrain West just moments before his death in the jail’s medical section. His body went limp as soon as the handcuffs were on, records show. The county Coroner’s Office later attributed his death to the ulcer.
The estate of a woman who killed herself while incarcerated at the jail that same month has threatened the county with a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, saying in a December letter that her death was caused by the “deliberate indifference” of the Sheriff’s Office and the “negligence” of its former health care contractor.
The county has also faced legal troubles over the deaths of other inmates who spent their last waking moments under restraint.
The son of deceased inmate Eliezier Tirado-Ortiz sued the Sheriff’s Office in U.S. District Court in Denver in August, saying his father would still be alive if deputies hadn’t used “excessive and unreasonable force” while restraining him during a drug-induced crisis at the jail in 2017, the lawsuit states.
Deramus Lemuel, 38, lost consciousness on a cell floor while high on drugs and held down by jailers in 2018. Deputies “needlessly initiated a use of force that would ultimately result” in the death of Lemuel, who never regained consciousness, the family’s attorney said in a claim letter to the county last year.
The Deadly Force Investigation Team, made up of members of the Colorado Springs Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office and the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, will investigate the most recent death.
“This is not an internal investigation. We are not investigating policies for the Sheriff’s Office,” said police spokesman Lt. Jim Sokolik. “We are investigating the events surrounding the death.”
Once complete, the multiagency team will turn its findings over to the District Attorney’s Office, which will decide if the deputies involved will face criminal charges.
The county Coroner’s Office will determine the man’s manner of death.
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