Jeffco to Pay $2.5M for Jennifer Lobato's Jail Death From Opioid Withdrawal

A Facebook photo of Jennifer Lobato. Additional images, a video and more below.
A Facebook photo of Jennifer Lobato. Additional images, a video and more below.
Facebook

Update: Last year, we reported about a lawsuit filed on behalf of Jennifer Lobato, a 37-year-old mother of seven who died in Jefferson County jail from opioid withdrawal. The document details the incidents of alleged neglect that led up to her death, with one jailer quoted as rejecting a plea for help from a fellow inmate with an order to "shut the fuck up." See our previous coverage below.

The defendants in the case included Jeffco's board of county commissioners and Sheriff Jeff Shrader, as well as individual employees at the jail and Correct Care Solutions, a private contractor that provides medical services for the facility.

The suit against Correct Care Solutions continues. However, a court today approved a settlement on behalf of Jefferson County.

The amount: $2.5 million. The agreement is also shared here.

Another Facebook photo of Jennifer Lobato.
Another Facebook photo of Jennifer Lobato.
Facebook

Among the likely reasons for settling cited by attorney David Lane in a release about the development were the discipline meted out against deputy sheriffs for "ignoring the clear symptoms of distress [Lobato] was showing," as well as Sheriff Shrader's public admission that she "might be alive today if there was an intervention."

In a statement, Lane writes: "This case is illustrative of the problem with opioids facing our society. County jails are just starting to wake up to the fact that opioid withdrawal can be both fatal and very expensive to taxpayers."

Lane, who spoke to us for today's post about an excessive-force lawsuit involving a police dog, also believes the settlement "highlights the inadequacy of the drive to privatize health care in our prisons and jails, as this is merely one of many similar lawsuits facing private health care providers in jails and prisons around the country who fail to adequately care for many of our nation’s jail and prison inmates."

Here's the settlement document, followed by our previous coverage.

Original post, 7 a.m. December 17, 2015: In March, we told you about the death of Jennifer Lobato, who lost her life as a result of dehydration related to heroin withdrawal while in custody at Jefferson County jail.

Afterward, even Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader publicly conceded that had Lobato received timely medical care, she would likely be alive today.

For our previous post, we spoke to attorney David Lane, who had agreed to represent Lobato's family in future litigation — and now, a lawsuit has been filed.

The document, on view below in its entirety, vividly recounts Lobato's final hours, complete with an allegation that one of her jailers told fellow inmates trying to alert authorities to her dire condition to "shut the fuck up."

Inside Jefferson County jail.
Inside Jefferson County jail.
File photo

The suit recounts Lobato's tough life, including her mother's suicide when she was five years old and subsequent years spent shuffling through the foster-care system.

However, Lobato, whose nickname was "Pooh Bear," survived these ordeals and went on to become the mother of seven children who ranged in ages from four to nineteen at the time of her death.

The circumstances that led to her passing began at 3:05 p.m. on March 1, when Lobato was arrested on suspicion of stealing merchandise from an Old Navy store in Lakewood.

En route to the Jeffco detention facility, Lobato is said to have told the arresting officer with the Lakewood Police Department that she was a heroin user and "was concerned about going to jail because of her fear of withdrawing from the drug."

Shortly thereafter, the lawsuit continues, Lobato began to feel ill — but various personnel named in the document are said to have made no reference to her declining condition.

In contrast, multiple inmates in the cell to which Lobato was assigned noticed right away that she was "coming off heroin." For instance, she began vomiting and was "flip-flopping" around on her bed.

Jennifer Lobato's booking photo.
Jennifer Lobato's booking photo.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Office

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At 8:30 a.m. the next morning, a nurse was informed about Lobato's symptoms, but she's alleged to have "deliberately ignored Ms. Lobato's serious medical needs."

A deputy is later quoted as dismissing Lobato's trials, saying, "Don't worry, she was doing drugs, so don't feel bad for her."

Over the next several hours, deputies who were assigned to take Lobato to advisements (which were later postponed) also failed to call for medical assistance, the suit allows. They justified their actions by saying that Lobato had claimed to be withdrawing from meth, not heroin, the lawsuit states.

Nonetheless, numerous inmates continued to advocate on Lobato's behalf between the hours of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on the 2nd, the document maintains, citing symptoms that included "chills, sweating, puking, diarrhea and restless legs."

The responses? One inmate "said the deputies would respond by laughing and saying she should not have come to jail on drugs."

Another quoted a deputy as saying, "If you want to run things, don't come to jail" and "Shut the fuck up or you'll be locked down for three days."

Finally, at about 7:19 p.m. that night, after more efforts to get assistance for Lobato went nowhere, an inmate informed personnel that Lobato didn't appear to be breathing — and life-saving measures that attempted to "breathe life back into a lifeless, vomit-caked Ms. Lobato" were unsuccessful. At 7:45 p.m., she was pronounced dead.

A collage of images that appeared on a Fundly.com page that raised money for Jennifer Lobato's funeral expenses.
A collage of images that appeared on a Fundly.com page that raised money for Jennifer Lobato's funeral expenses.
Fundly.com

The official cause of death was "cardiac arrest due to probable electrolyte abnormalities, due to repeated vomiting." But the suit offers a simpler conclusion: "Ms. Lobato died from dehydration. Ms. Lobato's dehydration was due to lack of appropriate medical care."

Lane took the case a few months after a jury awarded former inmate Ken McGill $11 million for substandard medical care in the Jeffco jail.

"The same medical people and the same sheriff's department just got tagged," Lane told us in March, "and $10 million of the verdict were punitive damages designed to teach them a lesson they'd never forget and make sure this kind of thing never happened again. And just a few months later, the same scenario is replaying itself with exactly the same entities involved."

This kind of incident is hardly unprecedented. As we've reported, Lane's firm consulted on the Ken McGill case and represented the families of Emily Rice and Christopher Lopez, both of whom died in custody.

Rice's family reportedly received a combined $7 million from the City of Denver and Denver Health, while Lopez's family was awarded $3 million by the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Look below to see video of a vigil for Lobato. The lawsuit follows.



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