Tyler Tabor's Slow, Agonizing Jail Death: "People Are Being Treated Like Animals"

Over the past year or so, we've shared a disheartening number of stories about inmates who've died in a variety of jails due to allegedly substandard medical care.

In June 2014, we told you about Christopher Lopez, whose jailers at the San Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo joked and laughed as he got sicker and sicker.

Then, in January, we detailed the passing of Zackary Moffitt, who suffered a fatal heart attack at the Summit County Justice Center after his medical needs were reportedly ignored for days.

And in March, we revealed the events that took place at Jefferson County jail prior to Jennifer Lobato dying of heroin withdrawal.

Jeffco Sheriff Jeff Shrader publicly admitted that had Lobato received timely medical attention, she would likely be with us today. And now, we've learned about another case that's eerily similar to hers: In May, heroin addict Tyler Tabor died of dehydration in the medical unit of the Adams County Detention Facility after several days in agony.

Dave Young, district attorney for the 17th Judicial District, didn't find any criminal wrongdoing in the Tabor case, as spelled out in a letter to Adams County Sheriff Michael McIntosh that's on view below — this despite documentation that Tabor's request for an IV was rejected. A nurse is quoted as saying that personnel "try not to use IVs unless it's absolutely necessary."

At this writing, no lawsuit has been filed in the Tabor case, but unless something unexpected happens in the coming days, one will arrive soon.

Tabor's family has secured the services of attorney David Lane, who also worked on all three cases noted above. The Lopez matter resulted in a $3 million settlement late last year, and Lane says, "the Moffitt case is in court now, the Lobato case is about to get filed, and so is the one for Tyler Tabor."

Here's how Lane shorthands what happened to Tabor.

"Tyler Tabor had a heroin addiction, and he got booked into jail," he notes. "The bond was only $300, but Tyler comes from a family that dearly loved him and supported him, and they were afraid that if they bonded him out, he'd just go back on drugs again. So they thought, 'If we keep him in, he'll have a safe environment to detox, and it'll be his first step to recovery.'

"Instead, he ended up dying," Lane continues, "and his family is guilt-stricken. They were thinking they were doing the right things to help him, but instead, they unwittingly put him into the hands of these uncaring incompetents."

Young's letter maintains that Tabor died of "natural causes," and Lane acknowledges that this claim is "technically correct. The natural cause was dehydration caused by heroin withdrawal — and the cure for that was hydration. An IV would have cured the whole thing."

Instead, Tabor was placed on an opiate withdrawal protocol that "called for, among other things, regular administration of medications, steady intake of water and electrolytes (Gatorade), and regular (every six hours) taking of vital signs," the report states. "Medications prescribed for Mr. Tabor included Clondine, Hydoxyzine (Vistaril), Acetaminophen (Tylenol), Pepto Bismal, Loperamide (Imodium) and Promethazine (phenegran). He was also prescribed an optional medication. Buprenophrine (Suboxone), if needed.

"It should note noted that the protocol was structured to deal with dehydration through the steady intake of water and electrolytes plus medications to control or minimize vomiting and diarrhea," the document states.

Unfortunately, this approach didn't work.

The letter describes treatments given to Tabor from May 14 to 17 and includes a graphic showing his vital signs at each check:

However, Tabor's vomiting persisted, weakening him more and more as the hours dragged on. Cameras didn't record all of his struggles; the letter states that "the video recording system in the jail is not performing as it should." But several sequences obtained by Fox31 show Tabor stumbling, staggering and unable to stand for reasons that Lane sees as exceedingly simple.

"He couldn't hold any liquids in his stomach," he says. "They kept giving them to him and he kept vomiting them up."

Hence, Tabor's request for an IV and the nurse's assertion that one would only be used if it was absolutely necessary. Lane's conclusion in light of Tabor's death: "It was absolutely necessary."

His explanation for what happened is blunt. "The people who run the Adams County jail simply don't care what happens to prisoners," he allows. "Any medical care is viewed as an unnecessary expense, and as a result, people are treated like animals."

Lane resists predicting a date for the lawsuit's filing, since he's currently in conversation with Adams County. When asked if a settlement is possible, he replies, "I like to think a settlement is possible in every case."

As for why incidents like these keep happening despite a growing body count, not to mention an enormous payoff in the Lopez case, "I've been asking myself that for 35 years and haven't come up with an answer," he concedes. "The best I can do is to say that the system will change when officials who are costing taxpayers millions are voted out of office."

Look below to see the aforementioned Fox31 report, featuring comments from Tabor's heartbroken parents and snippets from surveillance footage, followed by Young's letter about the case.

Adams County Review: Tyler Tabor Death

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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