Thursday, February 17, 2011

Two headlines, one death

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 12:52 PM

Bruce Howard
  • Courtesy CJC
  • Bruce Howard

Today, through a great journalistic convergence of space and time, the Gazette and the Independent published their own separate articles referencing the same lawsuit.

The Gazette focused their article entirely on the lawsuit of Bruce Howard's estate, while we were more focused on the more recent pending lawsuit being brought by the family of Brian O'Leary.

In researching the story of O'Leary, an alcoholic who died in El Paso County's Criminal Justice Center last August, we found reason to question whether or not neglect on the part of the jail, and its medical contractor Correctional Healthcare Management, could have caused his death. It is certainly what his family is alleging, and it is at the base of a lawsuit that they have brought against the county.

And while in our article we focused significant attention on O'Leary, we also were drawn to the lawsuit filed last November against the county, sheriff, and others, alleging that the death of Howard, who was chemically dependent, was due to the jail's neglect. Because if both O'Leary and Howard shared similar medical concerns and died from similar treatment (or lack thereof), what does that say about the jail?

Howard died while being held by El Paso County Sheriff's office in the sub-basement of the county courthouse in 2008.

The Gazette CORA'd for and received the video footage from inside the Fish Tank, the holding cell Howard was being held when he died. The Gazette's story focuses virtually entirely on the last 11 minutes of Howard's life, when a malfunctioning panic button allegedly kept sheriff's personnel from recognizing he was dying.

We feel the story here is bigger than what happened in those last few minutes — that the real question is whether the medical treatment that Howard received throughout his nearly two-day incarceration directly led to his death.

That is certainly the premise of the lawsuit that the Howard family filed. In that suit, the Howard family asserts that Bruce never once received the numerous medications that he required for his heart. They assert that he was clearly in medical distress, detoxing, and weak during his incarceration, but didn't receive any medical care. They assert that on the day he died, he was shaking, sweating, hallucinating.

The lawsuit alleges the jail neglected to notice that he was in trouble, and not just for those 11 minutes, but from the moment that he was booked. And, notably, the jail's own internal investigation appears to confirm many of these allegations.

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