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It is easy not to sympathize with an alcoholic who dies in jail. Most of us spend our lives trying to stay out of jail, and certainly none of us has ever driven drunk, right? Sure.

Brian O'Leary, an alcoholic who twice in two weeks was arrested on charges of driving under the influence, had wound up in the El Paso County jail, it appears, through no one's actions but his own.

When I contacted a friend of his to ask about the day he was arrested, she seemed shocked that I would even be interested (see cover story, starting here). She asked me why I wanted to write about Brian O'Leary. She asked with such derision that I was struck.

I finally stammered out, "Well, you heard that he died in jail, right?"

So, what was her response?

He was an alcoholic, she said, and he was bound to wind up in jail, or dead, sooner rather than later. That he died in jail wasn't going to be news to her: better there, after all, than in a head-on collision.

While it's hard to argue against her pragmatism, it's beside the point. In the past five years, seven people have died while being held by the county sheriff's office.

And equally pragmatically: When anyone dies in the custody of the government, we are all culpable. We are all liable, and there needs to be accountability.

  • It is easy not to sympathize with an alcoholic who dies in jail.

Speaking of Brian O'Leary, El Paso County Jail

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