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Overdoses Climb in Colorado Prisons and Jails With Drugs Smuggled by Mail, Uber Eats

by Harold Hempstead

A Denver jail guard was fired on April 29, 2022, after an investigation revealed he allowed deliveries from Uber Eats in which drugs were hidden and later used by a detainee to commit suicide. The news comes on the heels of three recent fatal drug overdoses in Colorado prisons, after which the state Department of Corrections (DOC) reported five guards at Limon Correctional Facility (CF) were arrested for smuggling in the last eight months of December 2021.

The fired Denver Detention Center guard, Denver Sherriff’s Department Deputy Derrek Peterson, allegedly allowed two detainees identified as TL and DW to take the food deliveries in which the contraband was hidden. The investigation began on August 6, 2021, after the scheme was reported by a third detainee who committed suicide by overdose.

The most recent state prisoner overdose fatality occurred in May 2021, when a prisoner died after overdosing on fentanyl at Limon CF. A responding guard also became ill. The other two prisoners fatally overdosed on synthetic cannabinoids or “spice,” one at the Colorado Territorial Prison on November 30, 2020, and the other at the Colorado State Penitentiary on July 16, 2021.

DOC Inspector General Sherrie Daigle did not identify the five arrested guards, who were also not tied to the fatal overdose, but she said on average one of DOC’s 6,000 employees is accused of smuggling every month, about the same rate as visitors to prisoners are charged—“if not once a week,” Daigle added.

DOC has reported a substantial increase in drugs seizures over the past four years. More than 400 grams of cocaine was intercepted in the first six months of 2021, compared to just 48.4 grams was seized in all of 2018. Likewise, more than triple the amount of heroin was seized during the first six months of 2021 than in all of 2018. By that point, the Associated Press reported, “[m]ethamphetamine, suboxone and prescription drug seizures, meanwhile, were set to exceed their 2018, 2019 and 2020 levels.”

The prison system has also begun photocopying prisoners’ mail to combat what it says is an increase in the volume of drug-soaked paper smuggled into prisons. “But we can’t copy legal mail,” Daigle noted, implying that mislabeled mail is a source of the problem.

Her office provided few statistics to back up these claims, but it requested $300,000 from state lawmakers to acquire and train a four-dog K9 team to alert mail room staffers to the presence of illicit substances.

PLN has reported that former Buena Vista CF guard Trevor Martineau, 28, was sentenced in February 2021 to four years in prison and two years of probation for smuggling contraband into the prison in 2019, including a drug-filled burrito hidden in his lunchbox. [See: PLN, Jun. 2021, p.62.]

More recently, Fremont CF guard Kyle G. Tatro, 32, was charged with first degree introduction of contraband for allegedly smuggling methamphetamine, opiates and Oxycodone into the prison on June 25, 2021. He pleaded not guilty the following December 6, with a trial date set for the following year in Freemont County District Court.

Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams, who serves as President of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, said jails like the one in Denver are also experiencing an uptick in drugs being introduced and prisoners overdosing. His county jail is one of 27 in the state that refuses to employ medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which has been proven to provide relief for the estimated 70% of those incarcerated who suffer substance abuse problems.

Sources: AP News, Pueblo Chieftan, KDVR, KIDO, KKTV

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