Dying man denied medical care in El Paso County jail, lawsuit alleges
A 48-year-old man died in the El Paso County jail after the facility’s medical staff ignored his deteriorating health and obvious extreme pain for hours, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the man’s sister Monday.
Cristo Canett, 48, died in the jail on April 26, 2022, after he suffered a perforated duodenal ulcer — an ulcer that created a hole in the lining of his small intestine, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. Such ulcers allow intestinal fluids to leak into a person’s abdominal cavity, which can cause infection, sepsis and death, the complaint states.
It’s a treatable condition, but jail medical staff refused to give Canett any help beyond mild painkillers even as he moaned in pain, could not walk and complained about nausea and abdominal pain for hours, the complaint alleges. The lawsuit names as defendants the jail’s medical provider, Wellpath, as well as El Paso County Sheriff Joseph Roybal, the El Paso County Board of Commissioners and several individual medical providers.
Canett was the 14th person to die in the jail since Wellpath, a controversial private company, took over inmates’ medical care in 2020, according to the lawsuit, which alleges the deaths show a pattern of negligence and malpractice by Wellpath.
“Mr. Canett’s deterioration and death was utterly predictable given (Wellpaths’) decisions to ignore Mr. Canett’s obvious symptoms of a life-threatening medical condition, their refusal to take a full medical history or timely gather his hospital records, their refusal to seek higher-level evaluation and treatment, and their refusal to send Mr. Canett to the hospital,” the complaint read.
Canett was arrested on April 24, 2022, at the emergency room at Centura-St. Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs. He’d gone to the emergency room to seek medical attention for rapidly worsening pain in his stomach and back, according to the lawsuit. While there, he got into a dispute with his sister about the use of a shared car, according to the complaint. The sister’s husband called Colorado Springs police.
The officers arrested Canett, telling him there was a warrant out for his arrest because he had failed to return to the halfway house where he lived. But Canett told the officers he had permission not to return on time to the halfway house because he was seeking medical care. The officers then spoke with the halfway house employees, who said they “did not mean to submit an ‘escape’ warrant” because they knew Canett was at the hospital, according to the lawsuit.
A police sergeant nevertheless arrested Canett. She removed him from the emergency room before he saw a doctor.
The sergeant, “a medically untrained layperson, decided to refuse Mr. Canett medical care on the basis of nothing more than her own ill-informed personal opinion that Mr. Canett was seeking drugs,” the lawsuit reads.
Canett was then jailed, where his condition worsened over the next 24 hours. Although he repeatedly sought medical help, Wellpath’s staff did not help him, thoroughly evaluate him, send him for more intensive care or call for an ambulance, according to the lawsuit.
Instead, when Canett stripped naked and moaned on the floor of his cell, struggling to breathe and crying out in pain, Wellpath employees gave the man Tylenol and Ibuprofen, the lawsuit alleges.
Around 1 a.m. on April 26, 2022, a deputy in the jail realized he could no longer hear Canett’s loud moaning and went to check on the man. He found Canett unresponsive on the floor of his cell; staff started CPR but could not revive the man. He was declared dead at 1:41 a.m.
Wellpath and a spokeswoman for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.
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