Reports: Eagle County jail, which holds Pitkin inmates, was aware of mental health issues of recent inmates who died by suicide |

Reports: Eagle County jail, which holds Pitkin inmates, was aware of mental health issues of recent inmates who died by suicide

John LaConte
Vail Daily
Pitkin County has an agreement with Eagle County to house inmates so long as Pitkin is making good-faith efforts to renovate the their jail.
File photo

The county jail where Pitkin County inmates are held by temporary agreement has struggled with two suicides while in custody since December, and reports suggest authorities there were aware of those inmates’ mental-health difficulties.

A man who is suspected to have died by suicide while in custody at the Eagle County detention facility had threatened suicide on numerous occasions leading up to the incident, according to police reports.

The reports date back to Dec. 5, when the man called a crisis line saying “he would 100% kill himself when he hung up,” according to a report from the Avon Police Department.

After attempting to locate the man and making contact with his family, a ping to his phone revealed he was in Adams County at the time, and the information was passed along to the county. But it wouldn’t be long before he popped up in Eagle County again.

On Jan. 30, Avon police responded to a disturbance in progress call at the man’s home and found that he had a warrant out for his arrest for failure to appear in court on a driving under the influence case. He was placed in custody, at which time he became violent and threatened suicide.

On Feb. 4, Avon police responded to a trespassing call at a residence to which the man had been invited but was asked to leave. A physical confrontation ensued, according to the reporting party, and the man was arrested and charged with domestic violence. He claimed he had also been assaulted and was transported to Vail Health to be evaluated for his injuries, according to the police report. Once at Vail Health, the man “made several statements of wanting law enforcement to shoot and kill him,” according to the report.

On April 6, Avon police responded to a domestic disturbance call at the same location as the Feb. 4 incident. The man was again taken into custody on domestic violence and other charges and, while in custody, stated that he wanted to kill himself.

According to the police report “… he stated that he wanted to kill himself and preferred to be at the hospital instead of the jail.”

The officer advised him that he would notify the jail deputies of his statement.

“I would ensure that he had the ability to speak with someone who could help him,” the officer wrote.

The man “continually repeated that he was going to kill himself once he got to the jail, that it was easy for him to hang himself, and that I would be responsible for his death,” the officer wrote. Once at the jail, “I filled out the pre-booking questionnaire, one of the questions was regarding suicidal statements made by the arrestee, I checked ‘yes’ on that portion of the form and advised Jail Deputies that (the suspect) had threatened to hang himself once inside the jail. I was advised by the Jail Deputies that they would take note of that, and that (the suspect) also made similar statements to them.”

The suspect died while in custody at the Eagle County jail on April 13, according to Coroner Kara Bettis. The case was turned over to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which is conducting an investigation. CBI spokesperson Lisa Kohlbrenner, on April 19, told the Vail Daily that all indications point to suicide.

On Monday, she said the investigation remains ongoing, and the bureau is currently waiting on toxicology results.

The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office has declined to comment on the case as it is an active investigation, but in referencing previous incidents involving death by suicide at the Eagle County detention center, Sheriff James van Beek has said his office always tries to evaluate situations with discretionary good judgment for the best outcome.

He was referencing a pair of suicides that occurred at the Eagle County jail in 2019.

“While there is some value in administering tests designed to detect depression and other issues, we must also face the fact that many who are intent on committing suicide have learned to hide their symptoms for fear of being stopped,” he wrote in a September 2019 column in the Vail Daily.

Since then, Bettis confirmed another suicide at the Eagle County jail, a female who was pronounced dead Dec. 7.

Van Beek, in his September 2019, column, said his office intends to work with mental-health professionals and law-enforcement agencies in discovering new strategies for evaluating mental-health conditions.

Dan Heinze, who was in contact with the female inmate who died by suicide, said whatever the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office is doing does not appear to be working. He said he had personally notified the jail to make sure they knew she was suicidal.

“It was brought to their attention that they needed to monitor her,” he said. “They were aware of it.”

Heinze said the inmate, in phone conversations while she was in custody, told him she wasn’t receiving help for her mental health issues.

“I see it as negligent,” he said. “The whole system is pretty broken.”