Were Stephanie Anderson's Cries for Help Ignored Before Death in Boulder Jail?

The number of people who've died while in custody in Colorado of late is absolutely shocking.

In a March post, we detailed the deaths of thirteen inmates during the previous year or so, including Jennifer Lobato, who went into heroin withdrawal after a shoplifting arrest and eventually died of dehydration — a preventable tragedy according to a lawsuit filed by her family.

During Lobato's downward spiral, those in neighboring cells tried to get assistance for her — but the suit quotes one jailer as telling them to "shut the fuck up."

Similar claims are now being made about the death of Stephanie Anderson in Boulder County Jail last Friday.

Anderson was also arrested for shoplifting (as well as an outstanding warrant for theft outside Boulder County), and sources maintain that one of her jailers dismissed her cries for help with a flippant remark: "“Officer no habla español."

On Facebook, Anderson shared the occasional portrait, including this one....

More frequently, however, she posted photos and videos of her three kids.

The most recent item, from May 22, features the children doing the Nae Nae while playing pool.

But according to friends and family members who spoke with the Denver Post, the upbeat scenarios she presented online masked tough times. Anderson is said to have been unemployed, and because she didn't have a permanent home, she and the kids had been staying with loved ones.

Then, on May 27, the Boulder County Sheriff's Office issued a release about what it described as an "unattended death."

At about 3:55 p.m. on the 27th, the BCSO noted, deputies "located an unresponsive female inmate in her cell at the Boulder County Jail during a routine welfare check." 

Lifesaving efforts failed, and the woman — subsequently identified by the Post (but not yet by Boulder authorities) as Anderson — was pronounced dead at 4:30 p.m.

Then, yesterday, the sheriff's office issued an update on Anderson's death.

According to the BCSO release, a man attending a regularly scheduled meeting of the Boulder County Commissioners told the officials "that he had a female friend housed near the deceased woman's cell on the day of her death. According to the man, his female friend alleges she heard the deceased woman asking for help, but that a female deputy working the module disregarded the woman's request."

Later in the account, the sheriff's office noted that the woman had "complained of feeling ill" the previous evening, May 26, "and as a result, she was taken to a local hospital. The woman was examined and treated by doctors in the Emergency Department and was discharged from the hospital, returning to the jail just before midnight."

Presumably, Anderson's hospitalization mere hours earlier should have made her keepers hyper-aware of the need for medical care the next afternoon — and sources cited by the Post say she had a heart condition that got worse when she was stressed.

Thus far, the Boulder coroner's office hasn't revealed Anderson's cause of death. But under the circumstances acknowledged by the sheriff's office, the jailer's “Officer no habla español” remark would be all the more problematic — if it's true, that is.

The sheriff's office states that the investigation into Anderson's death is continuing.

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