ACLU investigates Garco jail suicide
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The man who hanged himself at the Garfield County Jail Monday night had been on suicide watch at least twice in the past and was mentally ill, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“It seems to me from the information we have that the jail authorities would have been aware that Mr. Schilz had serious mental health problems, so we want to investigate and see what kind of attention he received,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado.
Silverstein said the deceased man, Timothy James Schilz Jr., had signed a release for the ACLU to obtain his medical and mental health records for the purposes of the ACLU’s pending lawsuit against the jail. The ACLU sent a copy of the release and a letter requesting those records to the sheriff’s attorneys on Thursday.
The ACLU said it has obtained two jail incident reports relevant to Schilz. One indicates Schilz made a suicidal statement and was placed on suicide watch in 2005, and the other indicates he was placed on suicide watch in the summer of 2006 with plans for a mental health evaluation, according to Silverstein.
Asked Tuesday if Schilz had been on suicide watch before, Sheriff Lou Vallario said that he couldn’t release private medical or mental health information.
“It’s true that medical and mental health records are private and the sheriff should not be releasing them publicly without consent, but the information that somebody was on suicide watch is not that kind of private information,” Silverstein said. “It’s found on incident reports that deputies write, which fall under open records laws.”
Vallario could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The ACLU’s pending class-action lawsuit against the jail, Vallario and Jail Commander Scott Dawson had already raised the issue of whether or not prisoners had access to adequate mental health treatment, along with allegations of prisoner abuse through improper use of restraining devices and prisoners’ inadequate access to attorneys.
Prisoners had to submit a request form to get mental health services, and the jail would respond saying they needed to have $100 available, Silverstein said. This denied care to prisoners who couldn’t afford it, he added.
One former inmate contacted the ACLU and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent after reading a news story Wednesday and told a similar story, adding that Schilz appeared obviously mentally ill.
The ACLU uses information from prisoners to determine if there are grounds to investigate further, Silverstein said, but ultimately it relies on jail records and statements made by the jail’s own employees.
Lead counsel for the ACLU, John Philips, withdrew from the case earlier this year. The Denver law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher has taken over. Depositions for the lawsuit are expected to begin soon.
The jail switched health-care providers in February. Vallario said at that time that mental health services offered free at the jail are limited to things such as crisis intervention and screening. He said he believed the jail should not be responsible for providing free mental health therapy for inmates who come into the jail with pre-existing problems, unless those problems affect their ability to live in the jail.
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