PUEBLO (AP) – The family of a mentally ill Colorado prison inmate who died in restraints filed a lawsuit Thursday saying that guards ignored his medical needs as he suffered a series of seizures.
The lawsuit filed in federal court said at least 16 state prison staff members did nothing to help Christopher Lopez, 35, as he died at the San Carlos prison on March 17, 2013.
Lopez, who was serving a four-year sentence for assaulting a prison guard after a previous conviction for trespassing, suffered from bipolar schizoaffective disorder, the lawsuit said.
When guards found Lopez unresponsive on his cell floor, they treated his condition as a behavioral problem instead of a medical emergency and put him in chains and shackles, according to the lawsuit.
The incident was captured on prison cameras, and Lopez was visibly shaking at times and was unable to answer a guard's questions, according to the lawsuit. One of the photos accompanying the lawsuit shows Lopez handcuffed to a chair, slumped to one side.
The camera video showed Lopez had two seizures while the guards laughed and discussed their views on Walmart, the lawsuit said.
"We have an unobstructed view as Mr. Lopez takes his last breath, dying, half-naked on the cold concrete floor of a prison cell — isolated and alone with no defendant caring whether he lived or died," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also said another prison employee attempted "to put on show for the video camera" by asking Lopez questions after he had stopped breathing. About 20 minutes after he died, guards called for medical backup, but it was too late, the lawsuit said.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson said three employees were fired and five were reprimanded after an investigation into Lopez's death.
In an email, Jacobson called Lopez's death a tragedy and said the department "does not condone the actions or omissions of the employees involved."
Their response did not conform to department policies or training, she said.