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Sheriff's Office's "fight club" results, and two inmates deaths 

Rough week at the EPCSO

click to enlarge Two inmates of the county jail died recently. - SAKHORN /SHUTTERSTOCK
  • sakhorn /Shutterstock
  • Two inmates of the county jail died recently.

In unrelated developments, the office of El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder released results of its so-called "fight club" investigation in the jail, and outlined circumstances of two Criminal Justice Center inmates' deaths.

The fight club investigation stems from a deputy's complaint in April, followed by a citizen complaint in May, regarding deputies vying for the most use-of-force incidents, the Sheriff's Office said in a release to the Independent on Jan. 26.

The release noted the events at issue, which occurred from 2012 to 2016, did not mirror the movie Fight Club. Rather, they relate to an "early warning system" used to identify deputies involved in multiple force incidents and intervene prior to the need for formal disciplinary action. Deputies had access to the information electronically and "participated in the comparison," the statement said, though there was no evidence of deputies provoking fights or unnecessary use of force.

After the probe was underway, it was transferred to the Sheriff's Professional Standards Office due to its complexity and the number of personnel involved, the release said. No outside agency assisted in the investigation.

The findings led Detentions Bureau Chief Mitch Lincoln to conclude that no use-of-force policies were violated. But Lincoln issued six letters of counseling, three of which went to supervisors, and four letters of reprimand. Those dealt with policies on conduct unbecoming an officer, performance of duty and respect for commanding officers, citizens and other employees.

Besides those actions, the probe gave rise to an agency-wide investigation of use of force, which the Sheriff's Office says will lead to recommendations on policy and training. That study is ongoing, and no date for its completion was disclosed.

Meanwhile, the early intervention system has been retained, but deputies' access to use-of-force electronic records has been removed.

As for the inmate deaths, Frank Reynolds, 57, died on Jan. 26 at Memorial Hospital. He was taken from the jail to the hospital an unspecified amount of time prior to his death. Sheriff's spokesperson Jackie Kirby says after inmates reported Reynolds was unresponsive, jail personnel found that he had a pulse and had him transported to Memorial.

Reynolds was booked into jail on Jan. 19 on charges of possession of a weapon by a previous offender, child abuse, third-degree assault and harassment. Manitou Springs Police Department was the arresting agency.

Damian Romero, 68, had spent seven to eight days at Memorial before being transported back to the jail where he died on Jan. 27, Kirby says. "About two miles from CJC, the deputy noticed he was having issues," Kirby says. The deputy radioed ahead, and jail personnel met the inmate in the sally port, an area where inmates are taken in and out of the jail, where life-saving efforts failed, she says.

Romero was booked into jail on Aug. 12, 2016. He faced charges of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, aggravated incest and pattern of abuse. Romero had been arrested by the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Kirby says an investigation is underway into Romero's death. She wasn't sure if Reynolds' death, which occurred at the hospital, would be investigated by the Sheriff's Office.

The El Paso County Coroner's Office said causes of death for both are pending toxicology and other tests.

— Pam Zubeck

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