$3mn awarded in lawsuit to family of prisoner who died as guards watched laughing
The Colorado Department of Corrections will pay $3 million to the family of a mentally ill inmate who died after guards and nurses at the facility for several hours watched his fatal seizures without helping him.
Christopher Lopez, 35, who had bipolar schizoaffective disorder, died at San Carlos correctional facility in Pueblo in March 2013.
The last six hours of Lopez’s life were caught on camera by the staff of the facility, who were laughing and joking while watching the inmate shaking from seizures which turned out fatal.
Lopez died of severe hyponatremia (low sodium-blood levels), which is treatable if medical help comes early enough.
In a highly disturbing video of the incident, Lopez is lying face down on the floor of his cell. The guards believed he was intentionally refusing to respond. Six officers in riot gear eventually dragged him out of his cell, took off his clothes, chained him to a chair and put a mask over his head.
Warning: Readers may find this video disturbing.
They then watched his seizures, while chatting and joking, apparently believing the inmate was faking the condition.
“I can see you breathing,” mental health clinician Cheryl Neumeister can be seen saying to Lopez’s corpse, according to the lawsuit.
Lopez died lying in his underwear on a concrete floor.
Lopez’s mother filed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections in June 2014 with the case resulting in a $3 million settlement for the family.
David Lane, the lawyer for Lopez's family, said the man’s death “was caused by a mentality that the lives of prisoners are worthless," the Denver Post reported.
"Hopefully, this settlement sends a message not just to Colorado prison authorities but to prison and jail authorities all over the country that the human beings they incarcerate must be treated like human beings," he said.
Three prison employees were fired and five others were disciplined following Lopez’s death.
The Department of Corrections distanced itself from the staff who ignored the inmate’s agony in a statement on the settlement, saying the employees' actions "were well outside of the department's established training, policies and practices," AP reported.