Prisons

Why Christopher Tanner Lost Most of His Hands and Feet

Christopher Tanner suffered a health crisis while incarcerated at the Denver Diagnostic and Reception Center.
Christopher Tanner suffered a health crisis while incarcerated at the Denver Diagnostic and Reception Center. Colorado Department of Corrections/Google Maps
Christopher Tanner suffered a health crisis while an inmate at a Colorado Department of Corrections facility — and a recently filed lawsuit contents that because of substandard care that may have been related to fears about COVID-19, significant portions of his hands and feet had to be amputated,

According to Anna Holland Edwards of Denver-based Holland, Holland Edwards & Grossman, P.C., who represents Tanner in conjunction with co-counsel Matt Laird of Denver's Thomas, Keel & Laird, LLC, this outcome was wholly unnecessary. "If they hadn't been playing a reckless wait-and-see game with him, he would have gotten the antibiotics he needed and would have been fine," Holland Edwards says. "Instead, he lost most of his fingers and toes." The filing includes graphic photos showing his hands and feet (below).

The lawsuit lists seven CDOC employees as defendants: Zachary A. Campbell, Jill M. Mannon, Alla Shkoknik, Dora Molina, Elena Flores, Randolph Maul and Tina Culleyford. All of them are characterized as being "responsible for providing medical care to Plaintiff during his detention." Maul is a doctor, while Molina is a registered nurse.

Tanner has a history of mainly minor criminal offenses, including theft, that Holland Edwards connects to his being hooked on heroin. Because of his addiction and short sentence (only a few months in length), he was sent to the Denver Diagnostic and Reception Center in January 2020 so that he could receive drug treatment while serving his time.


That March, however, Tanner "became sick," Holland Edwards says. "He developed a fever and felt like he had the flu. He ran a 105-degree fever, and he had a series of super-alarming vital signs, including very low oxygenation levels."

The timing of Tanner's symptoms happened to correspond with the first spread of COVID-19 in Colorado — a major complicating factor. "It's a new backdrop for an old problem," Holland Edwards says. "For a long time, the prison systems and the jail systems have been willing to take absurd risks with incarcerated people's health. Sometimes they do it because they think they're faking, or they're afraid of the individual. And now, all of a sudden, there's this infectious component."

As a result, Holland Edwards continues, Tanner "was left in his cell with his cellmate. There was a reluctance by the medical professionals to go in there, but Chris was also accused of using drugs or doing something else to cause his symptoms. In the meantime, he was lying on the floor, vomiting, and he was left with an IV bag that he was told to hold himself. His cellmate kept pressing for it to be treated like a medical emergency, but the doctors wouldn't come."
click to enlarge Photos of Christopher Tanner's foot and hand included in the lawsuit. - HOLLAND, HOLLAND EDWARDS & GROSSMAN, P.C.
Photos of Christopher Tanner's foot and hand included in the lawsuit.
Care was delayed "because of the risk of COVID" even though Tanner didn't have the disease, Holland Edwards maintains, "and by the time they finally took him to the hospital, he was so sick that he was in multiple organ failure and had terrible pneumonia. They were able to save his life, but not his hands and feet."

This outcome has been catastrophic for Tanner, Holland Edwards says: "This is a person who was fighting back from his addiction. He needed to serve his time and get out so that he could get on with the rest of his life. But now he's dealing with a whole new reality. He has balance issues, he has no digits to speak of, and he's been thrown into a hole that's going to take him his whole life to try to climb out of. And none of the charges against him rose to the level where we should have cut off his hands and his feet."

Asked about the lawsuit, Colorado Department of Corrections public-information officer Annie Skinner responded: "We do not comment on ongoing litigation."

Click to read Christopher Tanner v. Zachary A. Campbell, et al.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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