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Colorado: Defendants Settle After Death of Prisoner Denied Medical Treatment

by Matt Clarke

The estate of a man who died in a Colorado jail of a treatable foot malady has settled a lawsuit alleging Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic) and other defendants caused his death by denying him medical care and surgery.

When Dennis Choquette was booked into the CCA-run Bent County Correctional Facility (BCCF) in 2014, he was suffering from Charcot syndrome – a serious but treatable complication from diabetes in which the bones disintegrate.

According to the suit, jailers repeatedly refused to address the medical problem in order to save money. Choquette’s condition deteriorated during the nearly two years he was held at the jail until he developed a life-threatening and, ultimately, life-ending bone infection.

“We thought that if we got him some help, he could still walk with a prosthetic,” said attorney Anna Holland Edwards, whose firm was trying to help Choquette obtain medical care. “Instead, they played financial games, pretending that the surgery was elective. They pretended it wasn’t an emergency until it finally became an emergency. And because of their recklessness, Dennis Choquette died from that emergency.”

“His case is the Magna Carta for the protection of the civil rights of diabetics who are being incarcerated,” added attorney John Holland, who also represented Choquette. “This is one of the things you fear most about jails – that you have a clear medical need and no one will help you.”

When he arrived at BCCF, Choquette had a history of Charcot in his right foot that had been successfully managed, leaving him able to walk. According to Holland, jail medical staff discovered Charcot developing in his left foot when they took routine X-rays during the classification process, but didn’t inform Choquette.

Jail staff “made him walk on this foot for months, to the point where he could feel his bones breaking,” said Holland. “But no one would help him. And when he finally got to a hospital, his foot had progressed to the point where it was no longer viable for ambulation. He had a known deteriorating condition, and they walked him into making it worse.”

As his serious ailment progressed, Choquette began to seek medical care using the jail’s internal request system numerous times. Then the law firm of Holland, Holland Edwards & Grossman, P.C. began advocating for him, even to the point of filing a lawsuit. Meanwhile, he had developed a severe bone infection called osteomyelitis “and raging sepsis that forced their hand,” according to Edwards.

Once BCCF learned that amputation was necessary, they “considered surgery to be elective” and didn’t want to pay for it, so they transferred Choquette to the Department of Corrections. He was also denied access to a specialist. Choquette was dying when he finally arrived at a hospital; the doctors administered antibiotics, stabilized him and amputated his leg. He died two days later, in November 2016, due to sepsis, trauma and diabetic complications.

“This was a slow motion death ... it was like watching a slow torture unfold,” Holland stated. “What happened to Dennis is exactly what is wrong with health care at corrections. They knew he had a condition, and it was treatable. But they refused to help him or intervene even after we sued.... We went from trying to help our client to trying to figure out the value to his estate of them having killed him.”

As it turned out, that value was $171,000 from the Colorado Department of Corrections, plus confidential settlements with several other defendants in the case, which included CCA and Correctional Health Partners, LLC. The settlements were reached between May and September 2017. See: Estate of Dennis Choquette v. Corrections Corporation of America, U.S.D.C. (D. Col.), Case No. 1:16-cv-01845-RM-MEH. 



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Related legal case

Estate of Dennis Choquette v. Corrections Corporation of America