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‘I need to get out of here before I die’: Inmate’s family sues Denver Health over his death

DENVER (KDVR) — Two days before he died, Leroy “Nicky” Taylor called his public defender from jail and in a barely audible recording left her a message where he said, “I need to get out of here before I die.”

The 71-year-old wasn’t exaggerating. Taylor died on Feb. 9, 2022, in the Denver Detention Center. He and fellow inmates and even deputies from the Denver Sheriff Department had spent days pleading with medical staff to get him better treatment.

Taylor’s sons file wrongful death lawsuit

Now, Taylor’s two sons, Derek Taylor and Shawn Herron, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Denver Health and Hospital Authority, which has a contract with the Denver Sheriff Department to provide medical care to inmates at the downtown jail.

In addition to Denver Health, the lawsuit specifically names Dr. Peter Crum and nurses Melissa Brokaw, Bernice Chavarria Torres, Isaac Karugu and Alice Mukamugemanyi, along with 20 other medical staff members referred to as John Does.

The lawsuit comes six months after the FOX31 Problem Solvers revealed a Denver Police investigation into Taylor’s death never looked at the alleged negligence of Denver Health medical staff, despite multiple red flags raised in their own report. Instead, the detective who wrote the report admitted he only looked at whether fellow inmates somehow caused Taylor’s death, even though no one ever suggested Taylor’s cellmates had anything to do with his deteriorating condition.

The civil complaint claims: “Denver Health medical staff in the jail ignored Mr. Taylor’s ongoing and severe symptoms, including chest pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and his feet and hands turning blue.” It points out that detention guards reported Taylor was “barely breathing, “seemed “delirious” and needed help from cellmates to use the bathroom.

The lawsuit claims that over several days, medical staff “cruelly disregarded Mr. Taylor’s dignity as a human being and allowed him to die alone in his cell. Had Mr. Taylor received timely medical care or minimal health screening, he would not have died on February 9, 2022.”

The Denver Police Department released a response on why it only looked at inmates for the cause of Taylor’s death and not medical staff.

“The primary focus of an in-custody death investigation is to determine whether the individual suffered trauma leading to the death,” the statement reads. “While conducting the investigation, statements were obtained from inmates who had contact with Mr. Taylor, DSD personnel and medical personnel. While inmates stated they felt Mr. Taylor did not receive medical attention he needed, the findings of the death investigation, paired with the Medical Examiner’s report, did not indicate a criminal component to the death.”

‘I feel like I’m dying here’: Doctors ignored Taylor’s symptoms

Taylor entered the Denver Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center on Nov. 7, 2021, to serve a 90-day sentence for a probation violation. On Jan. 24, while incarcerated, Taylor tested positive for COVID-19. Five days later, Denver Health staff determined Taylor had recovered and placed him back in the jail’s general population.

But the lawsuit claims it was obvious to fellow prisoners that Taylor wasn’t better, because on Feb. 2, they approached a deputy to tell him Taylor was vomiting and having diarrhea in his bunk.

The civil complaint alleges Taylor would be sent to the medical ward five times in the following week, including twice on the day he died. Each time he was sent back to his cell and never transferred to Denver Health Medical Center.

The lawsuit says, “All reasonably trained healthcare workers are aware that anyone who complains of chest discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea for days must be immediately medically evaluated by a doctor and that evaluation should consist of an EKG, bloodwork, and targeted imaging, at a minimum.”

Instead, the complaint says Crum ignored serious symptoms that should have prompted additional tests for Taylor and “failed to record a single note” in his medical records.

Even as Taylor couldn’t swallow his medication by Feb. 4, medical staff did little more than order a chest X-ray, which didn’t happen until Feb. 7, according to the lawsuit.

That’s when a doctor, not named in the lawsuit, recommended a CT scan that Taylor would not get before his death two days later.

The day that scan was recommended is the same day Taylor left his public defender the voicemail saying he needed to get out.

“I need to get out of here before I die. I – I will – if you can arrange it for me to get out of here and go to my own doctor [rather] than stay in here, I will promise you and the judge to finish my sentence. I only have 13 days (in my sentence),” he said.

Taylor also asked, “See if the judge will allow me to go out of here to the hospital, see my own doctor, let me know, please. I feel like I’m dying in here.”

The public defender filed a motion that same day with the court requesting Taylor’s emergency release. The court did not issue an order on the motion before Taylor’s death on Feb. 9.

Taylor calls sister for help

On Feb. 8, Taylor called his sister from jail, and a recording of the call includes the following exchange:

  • Sister: How are you?
  • Taylor: I’m worse.
  • Sister: You’re worse?
  • Taylor: Yeah. Because – I can’t get no help down here. [I’ve had] diarrhea – for 14 hours. They said they couldn’t help me. Hello?
  • Sister: They said they could not help you?
  • Taylor: Right. They’re stretched out. So, I have to grin and bear it.
  • . . . .
  • Taylor: I am so miserable. I can’t eat anything. I got diarrhea. And they don’t give a f—.
  • Sister: It sounds like you need to be back in the hospital.
  • Taylor: I need to be – somewhere. I feel like I’m going to die.

Yet, the lawsuit claims Crum ordered Taylor to return to the jail’s general population on the afternoon of Feb. 8, even though he had never set eyes on Taylor.

Later that night, Taylor’s sister went to the jail in person to advocate for her brother but was unable to get him transferred to a hospital.

On the morning of Feb. 9, a Denver deputy documented in his 10:20 a.m. report that “Taylor did not look good, he seem[ed] delirious, the other inmates were helping him out when he needed to use the bathroom.” But when he approached a nurse, “Nurse Bernice said that her Charge Nurse said that inmate Taylor will not be going to Medical. I tried to explain to Bernice that inmate Taylor’s hands and feet are blue, Nurse Bernice said that there is nothing that she can do.”

Even after this, a sergeant and another deputy insisted on taking Taylor back to the medical ward in a wheelchair, where the lawsuit claims nurse Melissa Brokaw refused to provide Taylor any medical attention, “even though he could barely talk, appeared delirious, could not move on his own, was audibly struggling to breathe, and had visibly blue hands and feet.”

A few hours later, deputies brought Taylor back and one would later write in his report that Brokaw “stated there was nothing wrong with him, he will only get morning and evening medication.”

Brokaw later documented that deputies requested Taylor be housed in the medical ward “because of the disturbance he was creating in the pod.”

The lawsuit claims the “disturbance” Brokaw referred to involved other prisoners pleading for medical help on Taylor’s behalf.

Taylor falls out of bunk, pronounced dead at hospital

Less than an hour after Taylor was returned to his cell for the final time, he fell out of his bunk and onto the floor of his cell at 4:06 p.m.

Deputies called for an ambulance and performed CPR on the 71-year-old, who was no longer breathing.

The lawsuit says witnesses insist Taylor died at the jail, but the sheriff’s office went out of its way to not have him pronounced dead until after he was transported to the hospital.

A paramedic noted in Taylor’s chart, “Given lack of pts response to CPR, ending rhythm, and final end tidal CO2, I would traditionally have called for a pronouncement.”

Still, for reasons unknown, the lawsuit says officials from the sheriff’s department told Taylor’s sister he died at the hospital.

According to the results of his eventual autopsy, Taylor “died as a result of hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”

The lawsuit points out that the only Denver Health staff member to face any consequence “was Nurse Brokaw, who had her access to the jail personally revoked by Denver Sheriff Elias Diggins.”

FOX31 has previously reported that Brokaw was suspended six days after Taylor died and eventually left her employment on March 14, 2022. Denver Health has refused to say if she quit or was fired.

The federal lawsuit was filed by attorneys Ciara Anderson, Matthew Cron, Qusair Mohamedbhai and Edward Hopkins of the Rathod Mohamedbhai Law Firm, along with attorney Chris Gilbert.

Their lawsuit called Taylor’s death an “unconstitutional death sentence” and added, “Dr. Crum and Nurse Brokaw completely abdicated their gatekeeper roles and recklessly refused to hospitalize Mr. Taylor outside of the jail, where he could receive the medical care that he obviously needed.”

Denver Health responds

After the lawsuit was announced, FOX31 reached out to Denver Health for a statement and received the following from Chief Communications Officer Jacque Montgomery:

“Denver Health is aware of the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Taylor family. We are sorry for the family’s loss. According to the coroner’s report, Mr. Taylor died of natural causes. We dispute the allegations made and look forward to the opportunity to address them in court. Denver Health is proud of our 163-year history serving the health care needs of our community.”

Montgomery also told FOX31 that Crum still works at Denver Health.

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