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Family of mentally ill inmate who died in prison to sue DOC

Corrections officers with Christopher Lopez at the an Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo. (Photo: Federal lawsuit)

Corrections officers with Christopher Lopez at the an Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo. (Photo: Federal lawsuit)

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.

Christopher Lopez, 35, before his death in the intake area of the San Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo last year.  A lawsuit filed Thursday claims officers ignored him.  (Photo: Federal lawsuit)

Christopher Lopez, 35, before his death in the intake area of the San Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo last year. A lawsuit filed Thursday claims officers ignored him. (Photo: Federal lawsuit)

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.

13 comments

  • SpamFace Plant

    Another case of needing long term mental health care “housing” facilities in the US. Some of these folks need it despite all the touchy feebly public normalization babble from mental health docs. Bring back the cuckoos nests!

    • Mary

      Just a reminder: REAGAN started closing down mental institutions in California when he was governor. He then shared with other governors how much they could save it they followed suit. Finally, when he was elected president, he announced that folks like this WANT to be homeless, so the Federal system might as well close mental hospitals as well! Yes, this guy belonged in a mental hospital (and I understand a large percent of prisoners do) – but when the hospitals don’t exist, they end up in jails and prisons. What’s your bright idea to build and staff more mental hospitals?

      By the way – just curious – how seriously mentally ill does one have to be in your mind to be locked up? I suspect that the vast majority of us have at least one screw loose – but most of us are not violent. (I burst into tears after one Broncos’ Super Bowl loss – is that completely sane? On the other hand, I didn’t go on a vandalism “tear” as some folks did when they won 2 – I didn’t even drive around the neighborhood for hours honking my horn.)

  • J Burns

    Disgusting treatment of a human being. There needs to be a thorough investigation of the Colorado prison system. Gov. Hickenlooper needs to address this!

    • T

      I agree and hopefully the governor will not shy away from this with his tail between his legs! He is at the top of the totem pole with regards to the Colorado DOC and therefore, it IS his responsibility!

  • T

    I am appalled that officers, who are placed in a position of trust, simply did not care about this life. This man had a documented history of mental illness and still, no one put two and two together that he was in need of specialized care. (or no one cared, which is more likely the case.) I hope that criminal charges are considered, especially because I guarantee that there were medical staff involved that also chose to ignore this man’s basic human needs. The article mentions that he likely died of a sodium deficiency AKA he was denied the basic human need for water!!! I am sickened by this and my heart and sincerest prayers go out to the family.

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