Two Inmates Die of Dehydration in Colorado Jails

The Adams County Sheriff's Office tells 9Wants to Know it has turned their investigation into an unusual inmate dehydration death over the district attorney's office.


Tyler Tabor, 25, died after a "medical emergency" at the jail in May, according to a Adams County Sheriff's Office statement. While the sheriff will not discuss the circumstances, in an effort not to "increase the likelihood of misinforming the public," an autopsy report determined Tabor died of dehydration. Tabor was a heroin user and had told his parents he was afraid to detox in jail. Dehydration is a possible complication in severe opiate withdrawal cases due to uncontrollable vomiting that can last days.


The 17th Judicial District Attorney's Office has not shared its timeline to review and make a determination whether jail staff acted improperly as Tabor died.


"It's hard to get up every morning knowing I'm not going to see him again," Tyler's dad, Ray Tabor, said.


Tyler Tabor's shoes still sit next to the front door at his dad's house more than three months after his death. A large collage of favorite family photos sits in the front hall.


"I am so numb still," Tyler's mom, Michele McLean, said. "It just hurts too much."


Tyler Tabor was arrested for heroin possession in May. His parents, trying to exercise tough love, decided not to pay $300 to bail him out of the Adams County Jail.


"We thought he would be safe," McLean said.


According to a Sheriff's Office incident report, a deputy found Tyler on the floor of his medical cell on May 17 with a "gray color to him" and "having a difficult time breathing." He died from dehydration, according to the autopsy.


"It just doesn't make any sense at all," McLean said.


Tabor is one of at least two inmates in Colorado jails have died of the same complication to opiate withdrawal, and their families say the deaths were preventable. 9Wants to Know also discovered Jennifer Lobato, 37, a mother of seven children, also died of dehydration in her jail cell, according to her autopsy.


Lobato was arrested in March for shoplifting. Reports indicate she was sweating and throwing in her cell, and she begged for help with her withdrawal symptoms.


"They said to all the other inmates in the pod, 'Look what happens when you come to jail and you are on drugs. This is what happens. Let that be a lesson to you.'" civil rights attorney David Lane said. He represents both the Tabor and Lobato families.


Lane also says deputies failed to get medical attention for Lobato until after she became unresponsive.


"Any serious medical needs cannot be the subject of what the law calls 'deliberate indifference' by the jail." Lane said. "They can't just say 'too bad for you.'"


Nationally, jail inmate deaths from drug or alcohol intoxication increased 23 percent in one year, from 57 deaths in 2012 to 70 in 2013, according to the Department of Justice. Families in several states have sued local jails when heroin users died of dehydration behind bars.


"Part of what's required is to make sure you keep people hydrated, which is hard to do when they are throwing up," Art Schut, CEO of Arapahoe House drug and alcohol center in Thornton, said.


Experts say heroin detox is similar to a bad case of stomach flu. Vomiting and hydration levels have to be carefully monitored, whether the patient is in jail or rehab.


"If necessary, have them transported to a hospital," Schut said.


As heroin abuse becomes more pervasive in our community, local jails see increasing numbers of users behind bars.


"We have 6 people withdrawing from opiates right now," Boulder County Jail Commander Jeff Goetz said.


Deputies in Boulder look at the arrestees' behavior, their speech, and how lethargic are they. Goetz says arrestees who arrive too high or drunk may be turned away immediately. Jail nurses require those people to get medical clearance from the hospital before they see the inside of a jail cell.


"We are not doctors; that's not our job," Goetz said. "It's to take care of them as best we can while they are in our custody."


"The cure for dehydration is extraordinarily simple, if you attend to it. If you just ignore it, people will die," Lane said.


After Lobato's death, the Jefferson County Sheriff reprimanded six deputies. The jail added an additional nurse and created a communication log between deputies and medical staff. There's also a policy that inmates withdrawing from drugs will get medical attention without delay.


Tyler Tabor's parents still have so many unanswered questions, and they say the Adams County Sheriff's Office won't answer them due to an ongoing investigation.


"I want someone to try to convince me they did everything in their power to try to help my son," said Ray Tabor. "I don't think they can, but if they would try, I would listen."


The jail's contracted health care provider, Corizon Health, would only say "we are deeply saddened by the death of any patient in our care."

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