DENVER — The Colorado Department of Corrections has reached a $3 million settlement with the family of a mentally ill inmate who died after guards ignored his seizures.
Christopher Lopez's ordeal was captured on a six-hour video after guards at the San Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo removed him from his cell on March 17, 2013. Guards and nurses could be heard talking, joking and laughing while the 35-year-old man was suffering grand mal seizures, The Denver Post reported (http://dpo.st/1uXRwpf).
Lopez, who had bipolar schizoaffective disorder, died of severe hyponatremia, which occurs when sodium levels are too low. According to the lawsuit, almost all instances of hyponatremia are treatable if caught early.
"The death of Christopher Lopez was easily preventable and was caused by a mentality that the lives of prisoners are worthless," David Lane, the lawyer for Lopez's family, said Thursday. "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."
The Corrections Department issued a statement saying the employees' actions "were well outside of the department's established training, policies and practices."
The incident began when prison staff noticed Lopez lying face down on the floor to his cell semiconscious and unresponsive. Thinking he was refusing to respond, six correctional officers in riot gear dragged him out, stripped him, chained and cuffed him to a wheeled transport chair, and put a spit mask over his head.
They then placed him face-down in a cell where guards later found him dead.
Three employees were fired, and five others were disciplined after the death. Corrections officials say the department has taken steps, including giving health-protocol training to every employee, to ensure that what happened to Lopez does not happen again.
Lopez's mother, Juanita Lopez, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver in June.