DENVER (AP) — Colorado prison officials waited nearly a year and a half to report the death of a mentally ill inmate to health officials, delaying an outside review into policies and procedures that may have led to the death.
The Denver Post reported Monday that state health officials launched an investigation this summer into Christopher Lopez’s death. He suffered two seizures and died on a cell floor at San Carlos Correctional Facility on March 17, 2013.
“The facility was obligated to report it (within one day). They did not. A death is a reportable offense,” said Judy Hughes, senior branch chief of the health department’s Health Facilities and Medical Emergency Division.
Prison cameras captured the incident, and guards could be heard laughing and discussing their views about Wal-Mart. Lopez’s family has filed a lawsuit saying the guards ignored his needs and that Lopez had bipolar schizoaffective disorder.
The death wasn’t reported because Lopez didn’t die in the clinic, Corrections Department spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson said.
“We handled this the way we thought we were supposed to,” Jacobson said Friday.
Health officials say it must be reported because inmates get care in cells or the clinic.
Colorado’s health department has oversight and oversees licensing for Colorado’s 2,000 health-care facilities. Health inspectors will now review San Carlos’ clinical policies and practices and make recommendations for correcting any problems they find, said Randy Kuykendall, director of the department’s Health Facilities division. Health-care facilities are obligated to develop a plan to correct problems, if the state discovers them.
Guards found Lopez on the floor of a cell. Six correctional officers in riot gear dragged him out, stripped him, chained and cuffed him to a wheeled transport chair, and put a spit mask over his head. They later placed him in face-down in a cell where guards later found him not breathing and without a pulse.
Three employees were fired, and five others were disciplined. Corrections officials said the department has taken steps, including giving health-protocol training to every employee, to ensure that what happened to Lopez doesn’t happen again.
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