DENVER — The family of a mentally ill man who died while shackled in a Colorado prison has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging prison officers were deliberately “indifferent” to his death.
Christopher Lopez, 35, died in the intake area of the San Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo last year. The prison holds mentally ill inmates and Lopez had just been released from a 9 1/2 month period of solitary confinement.
The coroner reported Lopez died of natural causes, likely the result of a sodium deficiency.
Lopez had spent time in a number of prisons since 1996. Court records say he had a prolonged battle with schizophrenia. In 2011, his DOC records said he assaulted a staff member at San Carlos and was further punished.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Lopez’s mother and three children claims prisons officers ignored obvious signs he needed medical attention on March 17, 2013.
According to the lawsuit, Lopez was found lying face down on the floor of his cell at 3:30 a.m.
Corrections officers believed his unresponsiveness was a “behavioral problem,” the lawsuit said, so they placed him on a “special control status” designed to handle prisoners who might become violent.
The officers entered Lopez’s cell and put a spit mask on his head, dragged him into a restraint chair and shackled his wrists, waist and ankles.
He was taken to an intake area and removed from the chair.
While there, Lopez had two grand mal seizures, the lawsuit said.
“He is taken unconscious from the restraint chair in his boxer shorts and left to die on the cold concrete floor of his holding cell still fully shackled while medical personnel and guards stand around and make idle chit-chat and do absolutely nothing to get him the medical attention he desperately needed,” attorney David Lane said.
The Colorado Department of Corrections said it fired three employees and reprimanded another five in the months following Lopez’s death.