Woman's Denver Jail Suicide One of at Least 13 Recent Deaths Behind Bars

At around 6:09 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8, according to the Denver Sheriff Department, a 26-year-old woman being held on a $1,400 bond for aggravated motor-vehicle theft committed suicide in Denver County Jail.

She hanged herself with a bed sheet, the DSD reveals.

Incidents like these are happening all too frequently in Colorado jails and prisons.

We found reports about twelve other deaths at correctional facilities in the state over the past year or so, including suicides, homicides and demises owing to medical issues that may or may not have been properly addressed.

And that's not counting the suicide of Robert Knott, which our Alan Prendergast covered earlier this week. Knott, who suffered from severe mental illness, killed himself in 2013 at the federal supermax facility, but this month, the state finally agreed to pay a $175,000 settlement in the case.

We've also covered a number of the other dozen incidents, which raise important questions about supervision and the adequacy of health care for those in custody.

Here's a rundown, in chronological order.

Joseph Martinez
January 2015

The 47-year-old Martinez reportedly hanged himself in Jefferson County jail two days after his arrest for burglary and a probation violation.

Jennifer Lobato
March 2015

On March 1, as we reported, Lobato was arrested for shoplifting from an Old Navy store.

When she entered custody, she began to go through heroin withdrawal.

She eventually died of dehydration.

In December, Lobato's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the case. Among other things, the complaint alleges that a jail employee told those begging for help on Lobato's behalf to "shut the fuck up."

Timothy Baca
July 2015

We reported about Baca's arrest in March and April of 2015.

He was busted for allegedly killing his mother and then wounding two police officers as they tried to take him into custody.

Afterward, Baca was quoted in a police report as saying that he committed the murder because his mom had been possessed by demons and he needed to "make things right with God."

The following July, Baca hanged himself in Jefferson County jail.

Tyler Hawkins
Michael Roy Craven Jr.

October 2015

According to the Centennial Citizen, Hawkins and Craven died in separate incidents during the month of October at Arapahoe County jail.

Hawkins took his own life, using a towel as a noose.

Craven, for his part, died after being assaulted.

Eric Stewart, a fellow inmate, was subsequently arrested in the case.

Michael Lee Marshall
November 2015

As we reported,  Marshall was arrested for trespassing on November 7, 2015, after which he was placed in the Denver Detention Center's 4D pod, described as a "special management unit on the fourth floor."

Prior to his jailing, Marshall had reportedly refused to take medicine prescribed to fight the effects of his schizophrenia, and he'd had six police contacts over a 48 hour period. During 911 calls, he's said to have been "rambling" and engaged in "ranting."

On November 11, Marshall was allowed free time out of his cell, but when he "was observed behaving in a strange and erratic manner" and approaching another inmate aggressively, deputies intervened and took him to an area dubbed a sally port, with a bench on one side of a long hallway.

Shortly thereafter, a deputy pushed Marshall against a wall and he collapsed and quickly descended into a medical crisis that emergency personnel were unable to stop in time.

Harley Jefferson Smith
November 2015

Six hours after she was booked into custody, Smith, 32, reportedly was found dead by personnel at Jefferson County jail. She'd hanged herself.

Continue for more about recent jail deaths in Colorado, including photos and additional information.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts