Justice

A federal judge has allowed a claim of deliberate indifference to proceed against an Adams County jail employee who neglected to intervene after hearing about the poor health of an inmate, who then died hours later.

Marciano Briones was incarcerated at the Adams County Detention Facility on Dec. 27, 2016, when another inmate approached a deputy with concerns about Briones’s health. The inmate later testified to using the terms “very sick” and “skeleton” to describe the 84-year-old Briones. 

The deputy, Darius Ardrey, did not check on Briones and did not tell anyone else about the inmate’s health. The county explained in its legal filing that he suggested Briones talk to a nurse.

During the night, Deputy Jimmy Marshall noticed Briones appeared unsteady, but no one had informed him of a potential health issue. Marshall reportedly noticed that Briones was shaking and called for medical help. The deputy and other inmates monitored Briones and provided him blankets.

At 1:48 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 28, Briones was pronounced dead from sepsis. He was in the process of serving a yearlong jail sentence for driving under the influence.

“Some minor attention could have saved our dad. We could have spent more time with him for 10 more years,” Marc Briones, Marciano’s son, told CBS4.

The estate of Briones and several of his family members filed a federal complaint against Adams County, then-Sheriff Michael McIntosh and the two deputies. They alleged the defendants showed deliberate indifference to the deceased’s medical needs, a standard that requires a prison official to know of and disregard an “excessive risk” to health or safety.

Assistant county attorney Kerri A. Booth, in asking the court to dismiss the claim against Ardrey, argued the details the deputy heard from the inmate about Briones’s health “were not such that Deputy Ardrey would have recognized the necessity for a doctor’s attention.” Because the deputy believed the illness was influenza, the county believed there was no apparent excessive risk to Briones’s health.

Briones “knew how to request care, he knew what to do to be seen by medical, and he did not take the necessary steps to obtain care,” Booth wrote.

Chief Judge Phillip A. Brimmer, however, decided a reasonable jury could find Ardrey, being informed of Briones’s health condition, ignored a risk to the inmate by failing to check on him. In fact, a county investigation of the death found Ardrey violated policy by neglecting to check on Briones’s welfare, Brimmer noted in his Oct. 29 order. Consequently, the judge allowed the estate’s claim against the deputy to proceed.

Brimmer agreed there was no evidence that Marshall knew of and ignored a health risk to Briones. Even though Marshall conducted multiple row checks on his shift, there was no proof that Briones was visibly in distress to the point where Marshall should have noticed it.

As for the allegation that the sheriff and Adams County had a policy of indifference toward the medical care of inmates, Brimmer found the facts unpersuasive. The plaintiffs had alleged that the rate of deaths by suicide or medical emergency at the Adams County jail was “25 times that of Denver in the past four years,” an accusation the county denied.

“Deputy Ardrey’s action[s] alone are not sufficient to demonstrate that Adams County has any sort of policy or practice of indifference. Generally, a single incident is insufficient to establish a policy or practice for a municipal liability claim,” Brimmer wrote.

David Lane, an attorney with Killmer, Lane & Newman representing Briones’s estate, predicted a jury verdict in the family’s favor, with a sizable judgment. 

“Inmates in government prisons and jails should be treated with the basic human respect and dignity all of us are entitled to,” Lane said. “Animals in a zoo are treated more humanely than Mr. Briones was treated, and unfortunately, this deliberate indifference to his life, caused his death.”

A spokesperson said the county could not comment on pending litigation.

The case is Estate of Marciano Briones et al. v. Adams County et al.

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