Just over three years ago, Dillon Blodgett took his own life in the Montrose County Detention Facility. And unfortunately, this tragic act is hardly an isolated case.
Since then, two more Montrose inmates have committed suicide — a toll that disturbs Dan Shaffer, the attorney representing Blodgett's family in a lawsuit against, among others, Correct Care Solutions, LLC, the private health-care provider for the jail.
Shaffer's research suggests that "a disproportionate number of in-custody deaths by suicide happen in rural jails because there's not enough mental health care to go around. It's not a priority," he says.
Blodgett was a budding photographer who hoped to make a career with his camera. But he also struggled with his mental health, and prior to his November 2015 arrest on charges related to false reporting, criminal impersonation and escape from a community corrections facility, he had attempted suicide at least once in jail. Shaffer believes the try took place when Blodgett was being held at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Cañon City a few weeks before he wound up at Montrose's jail.
When Blodgett was booked there, Shaffer goes on, "he didn't initially talk to them as part of the admission process. I think a couple of days passed. But then he did an interview with someone at intake, and he indicated to someone that he had a history of suicide attempts."
Afterward, Blodgett was placed in solitary confinement, "which is very common in these rural jails, and especially Montrose. But it's not a place for suicide watch."
While in solitary, as is documented in the complaint, Blodgett repeatedly requested treatment for anxiety and depression, and these pleas were echoed by his fellow prisoners. According to Shaffer, "we interviewed a bunch of inmates from solitary confinement, and they consistently told us that he was begging for help, audibly, every day."
His mother incorrectly thought her son was on suicide watch, "which is how she slept at night," Shaffer says. "I think I'm the one, after he passed away, who told her he wasn't ever on a suicide watch."
During November and December of 2015 and into January 2016, Blodgett "was seen by various people who worked or contracted for Correctional Healthcare Companies" — another of the names associated with Correct Care Solutions. "But everyone said he was not appropriate for suicide watch at that time, even though every time he saw them, we think, he reported more details about his prior suicide attempt. There's definitely a record of him saying he tried to kill himself by hanging."
Finally, on January 20, Blodgett requested an extra towel, and one was given to him. He was later found hanging from it — and while he was still alive at the time of this discovery, he died on January 23.
The lawsuit against Correct Care Solutions, Correctional Healthcare Companies and numerous Montrose County employees and health-care providers was filed in November 2017, and since then, assorted plaintiffs have asked for it to be dismissed. But a judge has allowed it to move forward, albeit with some stipulations. "Essentially, Montrose County is out and the sergeant defendants named from Montrose County are out," Shaffer explains. "So is the commander at the time, who's no longer working there. But Correctional Healthcare Companies is in, and the staff employed by the company are in. Some of them we know by name, and some of them we don't yet. And there's also a psychologist who answered the complaint but didn't move to dismiss."
The folks at Correct Care Solutions should know this drill by now. The firm has been at the center of numerous suits covered in this space, including issues involving Ken McGill, who won an $11 million verdict in 2014 after suffering a stroke in Jefferson County lockup; the loved ones of Jennifer Lobato, awarded $2.5 million in 2016 as a result of her in-custody death from opioid withdrawal the previous year; and the estate of John Patrick Walter, which received a $4.25 million settlement over his agonizing jail death.
CCS is also targeted in an ongoing complaint filed on behalf of Jeffrey Lillis, who died of pneumonia circa 2014 while in the Arapahoe County Detention Facility — the same place where the late Denny Lovern, the subject of another lawsuit, perished.
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Meanwhile, more suicide deaths at the Montrose jail followed Blodgett's: Robert Petersen in August 2017 and Clinton Mitchell in March 2018. Note that the cause of Paulino Perez Martinez's August 2018 death, originally thought to involve suicide, was later determined to be acute peritonitis.
When asked about suicides in the Montrose jail, city spokesperson Katie Yergensen, corresponding via email, notes that "the Montrose County Sheriff's Office received a new sheriff on January 8th — Sheriff Gene Lillard — and as such the new administration is getting up to speed on SO operations" such as the jail.
We've also reached out for comment to Correct Care Solutions and Correctional Health Companies about the complaint. When and if we hear back, we'll update this post.
Click to read the Dillon Blodgett complaint and jury demand.