Ex-deputy accuses Pitkin County jail’s health-care provider of negligence over assault, strangulation
A former Pitkin County deputy who was the victim of a violent attack by a jail inmate with a history of psychiatric episodes is suing a health-care provider for negligence over the incident.
Deborah Kendrick’s lawsuit alleges Denver-based Correctional Health Partners, or CHP, failed to ensure that an inmate was treated with anti-psychotic medication he required each month. The inmate was “suffering from a psychotic episode due to a lack of proper medical care by defendant Correctional Health Partners” when he strangled Kendrick, the suit alleges.
The Jan. 27, 2021, experience placed a physical and psychological toll on Kendrick, who stepped down from her career of more than 25 years with the Sheriff’s Office that December, the suit said. She suffered from headaches and an injured neck as a result of the attack, undergoing months of physical therapy and medical attention, the suit said.
Kendrick, of Carbondale, declined comment when reached Monday. The lawyers who filed her suit, William Argeros of Redstone and Ian D. Kalmanowitz of Colorado Springs, were not available for immediate comment, and Correctional Health Partners didn’t return messages.
According to the lawsuit, CHP was responsible for prescribing and dispensing medications to all inmates at the jail. It was also contracted with Mind Springs to be its mental-health provider, the suit said.
“By virtue of the agreement between CHP and Pitkin County, CHP controlled all aspects of health-care and mental health treatment and care available to inmates,” the suit said.
The inmate who attacked Kendrick was in Pitkin County Jail awaiting trial for his alleged assault on a custodian who was cleaning a water fountain at Aspen Elementary School. Like Kendrick, the custodian was strangled unprovoked while at work, the suit says.
The school assault was in October 2020. Responding authorities took the inmate to Aspen Valley Hospital where he was evaluated and placed on a mental health-hold because he was considered a danger to himself and others. It was at least the second mental-health hold the man underwent in 2020, said the suit, noting he was hospitalized “after he was apprehended by police in Aspen for strange behavior, including running around topless and trying to break into the Little Nell hotel,” according to the suit.
An AVH physician authorized his release Oct. 27 after finding his condition was stabilized and “was no longer presenting with psychosis and mania.” The inmate was transferred to the jail for the alleged assault on the custodian, as well a series of home break-ins he was suspected of committing.
The suit says that an “advocate” for the inmate contacted a Mind Springs clinician that November to sound the alarm that he “was not receiving the correct medication and to request that a diagnostic evaluation be performed.” The advocate told the inmate’s clinician again in early December that he wasn’t doing well and “needs to be on the right meds,” the suit says.
It was not until Dec. 17, roughly five weeks before the assault on Kendrick, that the inmate was injected with antipsychotic medication. His previous injection was Oct. 5, the suit says.
Kendrick was working as a detentions deputy on the morning of the assault, the suit says. The inmate had been transferred to an observation cell the same day because he didn’t feel safe among the jail’s general population, the suit says. Unlike a regular cell with bars, the observation cell had windows and a door, meaning the only way Kendrick could communicate with the inmate was by entering the cell.
That’s what she did when she opened the door to ask the inmate if he was hungry for breakfast, to which he “sprang up from his mattress and pushed his way out of the cell,” the suit says.
“The cell door was open for approximately three to four seconds before (the inmate) forced his way out of the cell. After forcing his way out of the cell, (the inmate) grabbed Ms. Kendrick around the neck with both hands. Mr. Gonzales then quickly shifted his hands, placing one on the back of her head and one under her chin. Mr. Gonzales then violently twisted Ms. Kendrick’s head with his hands in what appeared to be a serious attempt to break Ms. Kendrick’s neck. While Ms. Kendrick fought back against (the inmate’s) attack, two deputies intervened to break his chokehold on her neck. The two deputies were unable to immediately subdue (the inmate) or gain control of him. Ms. Kendrick and another deputy then joined the two deputies in an attempt to subdue (the inmate). Ms. Kendrick and the three other deputies struggled with (the inmate) for over three minutes before they were able to gain sufficient control over him to secure him to a restraint chair.”
Kendrick believed the man belonged in a hospital, not a jail, the suit says. She expressed that sentiment to a CHP employee, who the lawsuit alleged replied, “That’s what happens when you take people off their medication.”
Kendrick was a valued employee and was named Pitkin County’s Employee of the Year for 2017, the suit says. She worked as a dispatcher from 1982-84, worked in the jail from 1988-92, was a deputy sheriff from November 2004 to Dec. 18, 2021, the suit says. She was 62 years old at the time of the attack, according to the suit.
“Ms. Kendrick’s duties as deputy sheriff working in the jail involved work to maintain the safety and security of inmates and staff, providing custody and control of inmates, preserving order and discipline in the jail, and providing protection for the health and safety of inmates,” the suit says.
She and the three deputies in the attack were awarded Pitkin County medals of honor for their “sacrifice in a single event which demonstrates bravery, heroism, and/or self sacrifice, clearly distinguishing the individuals for gallantry and bravery under life-threatening circumstances,” according to a Facebook post from the Sheriff’s Office in February 2021.
The lawsuit’s single claim is for negligence and seeks compensation for Kendrick’s physical injuries, pain and suffering, emotional distress, economic losses and consequential damages. It was filed last week in Pitkin County District Court and demands a jury trial.
CHP entered a contract with Pitkin County in February 2020 to provide a “health-care program for the jail in a manner that comports with the mission of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office to provide a safe, secure, and humane environment for inmates and staff,” the suit said. The county paid the agency $349,241 through December 2020, according to county records.
Turn Key Health Clinics, which acquired CHP in July 2022, currently provides medical service at the jail eight hours a day, seven days a week, according to Marci Suazo, Pitkin County’s communications manager. Turn Key also handles the jail-based behavioral service program, Suazo said.