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Denver sheriff answers to citizen board in jail death

DENVER (KDVR) — There are now three separate investigations into last week’s death of a 71-year-old man in a Denver jail.

In a public zoom meeting with the Citizen Oversight Board on Friday morning, Denver Sheriff Elias Diggins confirmed that in addition to Denver Police and the Department of Safety’s Public Integrity Division, Denver Health Medical Center is now also conducting an internal investigation.

This follows a Problem Solvers report that a charge nurse was placed on leave earlier this week for the death of Leroy Taylor.

“Our hearts go out to the family of Mr. Taylor,” Diggins said but offered few details about the Feb. 9 death of Taylor, who was found unresponsive in his cell.

Taylor’s sister Sandra Menlove told the Problem Solvers she believes her brother died from COVID-related symptoms because he had recently been admitted to Denver Health for COVID.

Upon his return to the Denver Detention Center, she said her brother sought follow-up medical help no less than five times because of breathing issues but was repeatedly returned to his cell.

“His voice was very hard to understand, he was complaining about his fingertips being blue,” Menlove said.

“It surprises me that you know we’re two full years into this pandemic that we should have a surprise COVID-related death in custody and it feels like there’s a serious gap here,” Julia Richman, chairwoman of the COB said.

When Richman asked Diggins if he had any oversight for the behavior of the charge nurse, Diggins replied that he does not. He said the oversight is up to Denver Health who has a contract with the sheriff’s department to provide medical treatment to inmates.

That led Richman to remark, “If people die in custody that isn’t necessarily because of actions you (Denver Sheriff’s Department) took that creates a really perilous environment, right? We have an accountability and authority kind of mismatch.”

COB member Karen Collier asked the sheriff if his department had a tracking system to monitor how many times an inmate requests medical attention and what the response is.

Diggins replied, “No we don’t keep metrics on when a deputies ask for inmates to be seen by medical, that’s not a metric that we keep. I believe Denver Health has metrics on the number of times they actually see folks.”

Denver Health has not yet responded to a FOX31 inquiry about how many times Taylor sought medical help in the days before his death.

Board member Katina Banks wanted to know if Taylor died in the jail or at the hospital. This is significant because sources told the Problem Solvers paramedics transferred a dead body to Denver Health when deputies could have called the medical examiner to come to the jail instead.

Diggins gave a carefully worded response, “When the determination was made that Mr. Taylor had passed away that was done at the hospital and again I can’t answer detailed questions about things because it is still a very active investigation.”

“I know he didn’t die at Denver Health. I know he didn’t, what I don’t know is why cover it up, why lie? Why not tell the truth?” Menlove asked.

When asked about the timeline of the investigations, Diggins responded, “Those are being conducted by bodies outside of the sheriff’s department but we know that all of those groups are working expeditiously to make sure they do a timely but thorough investigation.”

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