Suit: Boulder Jail at Fault After Ryan Partridge Gouged Out His Own Eyes

Ryan Partridge is now completely blind.
Ryan Partridge is now completely blind.
On December 17, 2016, during a psychotic episode, Ryan Partridge, an inmate at Boulder County Jail, tore his own eyeballs from his head. Partridge survived this horrifying example of self-harm, and he's now suing Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle and more than twenty other named defendants. David Lane, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, accessible below in its entirety, stresses that this shocking incident isn't isolated.

"Jails and prisons treat inmates as subhumans under the best of circumstances generally," Lane allows. "But when you have a mentally ill inmate in your facility, the therapy that frequently exists consists of tasers, clubs and fists. That's how you control these inmates, along with solitary confinement. The jails rarely seek hospitalization for mentally ill inmates, even though the statutes give these jails and prisons the ability to civilly commit inmates who are a danger to themselves and others. But they don't really care if inmates are injuring themselves, as this case shows."

Here's how Lane describes the events detailed in the complaint:

"Ryan Partridge comes from a really sweet, loving, nice family," Lane says. "He is about six-four, 220 pounds, model good-looking. But when he was in his late twenties or early thirties, he began to develop signs of schizophrenia, and his behavior resulted in minor criminal charges being filed. He'd get aggressive with his mom, for example, and the police would come and take him to Boulder jail."

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The Boulder County Jail, where the incident took place.
Over time, Lane continues, Partridge "got probation violations for his actions. He was not doing well. And at jail, he was exhibiting bizarre behavior on a consistent basis."

On November 1 of last year, approximately six weeks before he blinded himself, Partridge "got onto the second tier of the Boulder jail and jumped off head first," Lane points out. "They'd stopped him from doing this once before; they'd talked him down. But this time, his head hit a metal table and he broke one of his vertebrae. He was taken to the hospital, and they patched him up and sent him back to Boulder jail."

None of this behavior came as a surprise to jail staffers, Lane stresses. Earlier in 2016, he notes, Partridge "slammed his head into a toilet and busted out seven of his own teeth. And they caught him a couple of times with his fingers in his eye sockets — but they stopped him from doing anything."

According to Lane, "Ryan's parents were calling Boulder, begging them, 'Please, get him help. He needs his medication. He's not taking his meds. He needs help. Hospitalize him.'"

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Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle is the first defendant named in the lawsuit.
Finally, Lane acknowledges, "Boulder decided, 'We really do need to get him into a hospital' — so they went and got a court order. But the state mental hospital said, 'We're full.' So they sat him in Boulder jail for over a week."

Then, on December 17, Lane says, "guards walked by his room and saw blood near his eyes. So they went in — but because Ryan was paranoid on top of everything else, the guards had a repeated history of tasing him and beating him down to the ground. They didn't realize the reason he was being non-compliant this time was that he'd plucked his eyeballs out. So they again started beating him into submission and finally got him restrained. And that's when they realized what he'd done and were like, 'Holy shit.' They took him to medical, medical immediately shipped him off to Denver, and he was taken into surgery. But there was nothing they could do."

Nearly a year later, Lane goes on, "all the various minor criminal charges against him have been dismissed, and Ryan is living at home with his mom. He's on his medication, and he's actually pretty lucid and coherent right now. But he's permanently blind."

Although Sheriff Pelle appeared on a CBS4 report about the Partridge suit last night, he declined to discuss it specifically and instead spoke generically about the challenges jails have in dealing with mentally ill inmates. But Lane characterizes the city's take on the complaint like so.

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Another look at Ryan Partridge.
"Boulder's position is, 'We tried to get him into the state hospital, and the state hospital was full — so what are we supposed to do? And we can't forcibly medicate these guys if they're not taking their meds.' And my response is, not only can you do that, but you're obligated to do it if they're a danger to themselves and others. You're obligated to get them hospitalized. You're obligated to forcibly medicate them. And the fact that the state hospital told you, 'Sorry, but we don't have any bed space for him' doesn't excuse you. You can't say we did everything that was humanly possible."

He adds: "You could have taken him to Boulder Memorial Hospital and gotten him put on a 72-hour psych hold. You could have taken him down to Denver Health and put him on a psych hold. You could have gotten a court order for an outside doctor to come to the jail and medicate him. But you did none of these things. You can't be deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs of an inmate, but you were, and now it's going to cost you, I believe, millions and millions of dollars, because just taking care of Ryan for the rest of his life is going to cost a ton of money."

In Lane's view, the actions taken by authorities at Boulder County Jail in regard to Partridge are typical, not extraordinary. "They watched Ryan jump off a second-floor tier. They watched him bang his head against his toilet and knock out seven teeth. They watched him on two or three different occasions try to pluck his eyeballs out, but they did nothing about it. And he finally succeeded."

Click to read Ryan Partridge v. Joe Pelle, et. al.