Brian Roundtree's crimes were laughably inept, but a judge placed him on a $1 million bond anyway, in part because he felt the suicidal man was safer in jail than out.
He wasn't. Less than 24 hours later, Roundtree had killed himself, becoming another casualty of a worrisome trend: The number of suicides at jails is rising.
Roundtree is a case in point. The loving family man suffered from mental illness that appears to have been a factor in his fateful act while in custody at the Arapahoe County Detention Facility early last year. And as with Dan Shaffer, who's handling the Dillon Blodgett matter, Erica Grossman of Holland, Holland, Edwards & Grossman, P.C., the firm representing the loved ones Roundtree left behind, claims in this lawsuit that his death didn't have to happen.
At least one of the defendants in the two cases is the same, too: Correct Care Solutions, LLC, a private health-care company that contracts with both jails to provide medical treatment for inmates. "This company doesn't take the conditions and the lives of the people in their care seriously," Grossman maintains, "and as a result, they die preventable deaths."
At this writing, Correct Care Solutions, now doing business as Wellpath, has not responded to an interview request from Westword about Roundtree's death. When and if representatives from the company get back to us, we'll update this report.
Other defendants in the case include the board of commissioners for Arapahoe County and Sheriff Tyler Brown. Arapahoe County's statement reads: "Mr. Roundtree’s suicide was both unfortunate and a tragic example of the challenges faced not only by jails, but the community at large when it comes to suicide. The Arapahoe County Detention Facility screens all inmates for suicide risk when they enter the facility and offers additional medical and mental health evaluations and services to inmates while they are incarcerated in order to try and prevent and address suicide risks. However, evaluating suicide risk can be a challenge in any environment, let alone a jail, because the evaluation turns in large part on an assessment of information provided by the subject and how honest and forthcoming the subject is to standardized risk assessment questions. In the case of Mr. Roundtree, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office is confident that the litigation will ultimately show that Mr. Roundtree was provided access to these same services but nevertheless tragically took his own life."
According to Grossman, Roundtree was taken into custody as a pre-trial detainee on January 17, 2018, "and right before he went to jail, he was suffering from a major mental breakdown — major depression, manic episodes. He was in treatment, but he stopped going to therapy and stopped taking the anti-depressant medication he was supposed to be on."
After that, she continues, Roundtree "committed a series of amateurish robberies. He put on a mask and used a BB gun and took money from local businesses in his community. It was not too brilliant of a plan, and the police quickly caught on."
Roundtree was taken into custody at a gas station, and he didn't try to hide his guilt. "Right after he was caught, he said, 'I did the whole thing,'" Grossman reveals. "He talked about how embarrassed and ashamed he was, talked about how he wasn't on his medication that he should be taking for his depression, and said he was suicidal. He told them he had planned to commit suicide by cop."
Based on these statements, Roundtree was placed on suicide watch. But this designation didn't last long, Grossman allows. "Basically about ten hours later, Brian had a court hearing. At that point — and I don't really understand why — Arapahoe County and CCS cleared him from suicide watch to go to court without going back on after he came back. There was no medical screening. But the judge was concerned. Brian was put on a million-dollar bond, and the judge basically said the reason it was so high was because he was worried that if he was released, he might kill himself. He was acutely suicidal, and the judge felt the safest place for him would be in jail, where he couldn't harm the community and couldn't hurt himself."
This turned out to be an incorrect assumption.
The lawsuit maintains that two CCS employees justified Roundtree's change in status by making false statements on his medical chart. In Grossman's words, "They said he didn't have any problems with not taking medication or going into therapy. Instead of being on suicide watch, they housed him in the general population, in a cell by himself with a double bunk and bed sheets, which is exactly how many people in cells kill themselves."
Around 9:45 p.m. on January 18, an inmate tasked with cleaning cells found Roundtree hanging by the neck from one of the sheets. Efforts to revive him failed, and he was pronounced dead just over twenty minutes later.
The resulting legal case is hardly the first to involve a Colorado jail that contracted with Correct Care Solutions. Indeed, the firm has been a plaintiff in many lawsuits covered in this space. Subjects include Ken McGill, who won an $11 million verdict in 2014 after suffering a stroke in Jefferson County lockup; Jennifer Lobato, whose family members were awarded $2.5 million in 2016 as a result of her in-custody death from opioid withdrawal the previous year; and John Patrick Walter, whose estate received a $4.25 million settlement over his agonizing jail death.
CCS is also targeted in ongoing complaints filed on behalf of Jeffrey Lillis, who died of pneumonia circa 2014, and Denny Lovern, felled by heart-related issues he controlled with medication personnel didn't give him until it was too late. Both Lillis and Lovern perished at the Arapahoe County Detention Center.
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To Grossman, the way CCS dealt with Roundtree shares similarities with these scenarios, even though the other deaths weren't self-inflicted.
"I believe the health-care provider tries not to do anything that takes seriously the medical or mental health conditions of inmates because doing so costs more money," she says. "My guess is that it takes a lot more staff and security in the jail to make sure someone who's suicidal is kept safe. So the pattern I see is that Correct Care and its employees brush off various complaints because dealing with them would be more expensive and time-consuming."
She believes that if Roundtree had shared his suicidal thoughts with medical professionals outside a jail setting, "there's no question he would have been kept on suicide watch and gotten the care he needed."
Instead, his four biological children and two stepchildren that he was raising as his own have been "absolutely devastated by his death," Grossman confirms. "And I imagine as they grow older and have questions about why this happened, it will only get harder to understand why their father was so neglected. When he was in treatment, he had managed to turn his life around — but right before he went into jail, he was struggling. And he died in a system that didn't care about him."