The Agonizing, Unnecessary, Day-Plus Jail Death of Denny Lovern

One among many booking photos of Denny Lovern.
One among many booking photos of Denny Lovern. File photo
The misdiagnosis of inmate Denny Lovern's chest pains as a stomach ache essentially sentenced him to a death that was both cruel and unusual, stretching out over more than a day during which he occasionally vomited into his shirt because he was too weak to move to the toilet. And no one did anything to adequately address the magnitude of his health crisis until it was far too late.

These are among the claims in the latest lawsuit alleging woefully subpar health care at a Colorado jail — in this case, the Arapahoe County Detention Facility — that used a private health-care company to handle the medical needs of its charges. This time around, the lead defendant is Tennessee-based Correct Care Solutions, a firm 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, and the loved ones of Jennifer Lobato, who were awarded $2.5 million in 2016 as a result of her in-custody death from opioid withdrawal the previous year.

CCS is also targeted in an ongoing complaint filed on behalf of Jeffrey Lillis, who died of pneumonia circa 2014 while in the same facility where Lovern was incarcerated.

The latest document is accessible below. But attorney Anna Holland Edwards of Holland, Holland Edwards & Grossman offers an overview of a case involving a man whose face many Denverites will recognize, even though his death appears to have gone largely unreported prior to the lawsuit's filing.

In 2014, Lovern became the poster child for the inconsistent, erratic and frequently dangerous ways in which individuals are punished for driving under the influence. That year, he was jailed on DUI-related charges for the sixteenth time, resulting in a one-man mug-shot gallery that offered visual evidence of an addiction to alcohol that stretched from his youth well into his middle age. Lovern was 59 on April 3, 2017, when he was jailed for what would turn out to be the last time.

click to enlarge The Arapahoe County Detention Facility, where Lovern had his final health crisis. - 9NEWS FILE PHOTO
The Arapahoe County Detention Facility, where Lovern had his final health crisis.
9News file photo
Holland Edwards acknowledges Lovern's chronic difficulties with drinking and driving. "Most people in jail have a history," she notes. "But this case is about a man who was being treated by a private medical company, and he also had a history of heart attacks, all of which was known by the nurses. But they didn't call a doctor, didn't do an EKG, didn't do anything — and he died in his cell of heart-related issues."

Upon his admittance into the Arapahoe County facility on April 3, "he told them, 'These are the meds I have to have,'" Holland Edwards relates, "and one of them was Plavix, because he'd had previous heart attacks and stent procedures. But they didn't have it, so they didn't give it to him. He didn't get his first dose until shortly before he died."

Three days later, on April 6, "was the first time he thought he was having a heart attack," she goes on. "He'd been complaining about not having his medications, and he asked for an extra blanket because he was suffering from extreme acid reflux. That should have been a warning sign right then that he was having heart issues, since he'd been taken off Plavix. But the nurse who was seeing him put 'heart attack' in quotation marks."

Standard procedure called for the nurse to open what Holland Edwards refers to as "a protocol for his health issues. But instead of opening up a cardiac protocol, she opened up a gastrointestinal protocol. In other words, she decided on her own that this was a stomach problem — and that's the way a lot of these private medical companies save money. They have nurses do the job of doctors. And nurses are certainly an important part of medical care, but they're not the end of medical care. When a diagnosis is required, you have to call a doctor. And she didn't."

As such, Lovern, who'd been experiencing burning from his stomach to his chest and had been regurgitating yellow bile, was given some Maalox, an over-the-counter digestive remedy that Holland Edwards says "he threw right up."

click to enlarge Anna Holland Edwards represents Denny Lovern's estate. - GOOGLE PLUS
Anna Holland Edwards represents Denny Lovern's estate.
Google Plus
Nonetheless, Lovern was sent back to his cell shortly thereafter, with personnel using a wheelchair because the normally ambulatory inmate didn't have the strength to walk there. There, according to his cellmate, Lovern continued vomiting, sometimes at fifteen-minute intervals, and in videos Holland Edwards has been able to access to date, "we see nobody on the staff interacting with him, and the medical records show no records of vitals being taken or any assessments."

Finally, at about 1:45 a.m. on April 8, after Lovern collapsed on the toilet, which was filled with bloody vomit, deputies finally responded to his cellmate's entreaties. By the time they got there, he was unresponsive, wasn't breathing and had no pulse.

Darla Dailey, Lovern's daughter, was devastated by what happened, Holland Edwards stresses. "She had really been working on her relationship with him in his last years. She had been visiting with him frequently, and he was getting to know his grandchildren. So what happened cut off a lot of relationships. There are families that are torn apart as a result of things like this happening."

Such incidents have become more commonplace over the years. Indeed, the lawsuit cites the 2013 death of Rashod McNulty in a New York jail under circumstances that are chillingly like the ones that led to Lovern's passing.

"In the broad sense, there are constantly stories from all over the country about private medical companies not having the medications they need, not giving the medications to patients when they do, personnel diagnosing illnesses outside their scope or treating people like they're faking," Holland Edwards says. "Basically, they're warehousing these sick people hoping they'll get better, and sometimes they do. But sometimes they die."

She adds, "This is a sad one — and I'm so tired of stories like this."

Click to read Estate of Denny Lovern v. Correct Care Solutions, et al.
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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