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$2 Million Settlement in Death of Mentally Disabled Detainee Stripped of Anti-Seizure Device at Colorado Jail

by David M. Reutter


On May 1, 2023, following an order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that reversed a grant of summary judgment to a guard at Colorado’s Mesa County Detention Facility (MCDF), a $2 million settlement was reached in a suit filed by the mother of a mentally disabled detainee who suffered a fatal seizure at the jail. The case highlights how deadly wrong it is to incarcerate those like Tomas Beauford, who had an IQ of 52 and operated on the level of a five-year-old. “Once the [criminal justice] machine gets turned on,” said David A. Lane, an attorney for Beauford’s estate, “stopping the machine is almost impossible.”

The 24-year-old was arrested on March 1, 2014, for assault and unlawful sexual misconduct at Grand Junction Regional Center, a state residential hospital for the developmentally disabled where he lived. In addition to his intellectual disability, Beauford suffered “bipolar disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, attention hyperactivity disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder,” as the Court recalled. He also had epilepsy and took anti-seizure medication, plus he had an implanted Vagus Nerve Stimulator (VNS). Often called a “pacemaker for the brain,” the device sends a shock through the nervous system to interrupt a seizure.

Beauford had a magnet bracelet to trigger his VNS, but it was not with him when he died—it had been confiscated during intake into the jail, apparently by someone who thought it violated a ban on personal jewelry. Luckily, he didn’t need it during the first six weeks he spent there, when he allegedly refused his medications about half the time. Jail staff didn’t respond to that with alarm, either. His luck held out around 8:40 p.m. on April 15, 2016, when Beauford experienced a seizure but was quickly found by guards Peter M. Dalrymple and Richard D. Parkinson. Jail nurse Renee Workman administered treatment, and the seizure passed.

All was clear until around 11:55 p.m. that evening. While making security checks, Dalrymple found Beauford on the floor with his head wedged under a desk in the cell. He appeared to be breathing, Dalrymple later claimed, adding that the detainee often slept in awkward positions, which was why the guard moved on. However, he made his next round earlier than usual. On that pass, at 12:15 a.m., Dalrymple could not tell if Beauford was breathing, so he called Workman.

It was soon determined that Beauford was not breathing. But efforts to revive him failed. He was pronounced dead at a hospital hours later. On behalf of Beauford’s estate, his mother, Tiffany Marsh, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, which granted Defendants summary judgment. She appealed, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed in all respects except as to Dalrymple and Mesa County, as PLN reported. [See PLN: Dec. 2022, p.34.]

The parties then proceeded to reach their settlement, under which the county agreed to pay $1.6 million, while its private jail medical contractor, Correct Care Solutions—now known as Wellpath—agreed to pay $400,000. The agreement also included costs and fees for attorneys representing Beauford’s estate, including Lane and fellow lawyers Michael P. Fairhurst, Thomas McFarland and Andrew J. McNulty of Kilmer, Lane and Newman, LLP in Denver. No one was disciplined for Beauford’s death, and the county admitted no liability. Instead it agreed to hang a commemorative plaque with his photo in the jail lobby. See: Est. of Beauford v. Correct Care Sols. LLC, USDC (D. Colo.), Case No. 1:16-cv-00851.


Additional Source: AP News

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Related legal case

Est. of Beauford v. Correct Care Sols. LLC