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Woman died of infection in Jefferson County jail without medical care for days, lawsuit alleges

The Jefferson County sheriff, board of commissioners and several health care workers face a new federal lawsuit over a woman’s 2021 death from a heart infection in the county’s detention facility. The lawsuit alleges Abby Angelo, 29, died because she did not receive basic medical care as the infection spread.

The lawsuit alleges Angelo did not receive medication for the first several days of her stay in the jail besides a dose of acetaminophen, a fever reducer and pain reliever, and an albuterol inhaler despite her complaints of shortness of breath, telling a sheriff’s deputy she was in withdrawal from heroin and a medical screening showing a dangerously low oxygen saturation level in her blood. She also complained of being in pain throughout her stay, showed signs of sepsis and fluid in her lungs and was seen lying naked in her cell several times by sheriff’s deputies during rounds.

Angelo had been initially put into a COVID-19 observation unit of the jail for a few days after her arrest because of the jail’s policy for new detainees at the time, but then moved to a cell on suicide watch because she had made suicidal statements to a deputy, according to the lawsuit. Two deputies in regular contact with her were alarmed by her deteriorating health, according to the lawsuit.

Angelo died June 28, 2021 from a heart infection, nine days after her arrest.

“Abby wasn’t even given a chance to live. She just laid there and died,” her mother, Kristie Angelo, told the Denver Gazette.

Kristie Angelo said she’s still in shock over her daughter’s death, and struggles to process that Abby isn’t around anymore. Much of her sadness has turned to anger, and Kristie said she hopes the lawsuit brings accountability for the health care workers she believes were negligent.

“To know that she suffered alone, in the conditions that she did, is very upsetting,” she said.

Wheat Ridge police officers had arrested Angelo on June 19, 2021 after they responded to a report of a possible overdose in a King Soopers parking lot. She was alert when they arrived, and after giving the officers her name they arrested her for three outstanding warrants related to failures to appear related to drug possession and identity theft.

The lawsuit names five nurses who saw Angelo during her stay. The case alleges they should have recognized she needed to go to a hospital, and that her symptoms were not due to mild substance withdrawal. The civil rights law firm Rathod Mohamedbhai brought the case on behalf of Angelo’s estate, her mother, and her now 11-year-old son.

The case also names Sheriff Reggie Marinelli, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners and Wellpath, the private health care provider the sheriff’s office contracted with at the time. The lawsuit alleges the sheriff and commissioners have responsibility for oversight, supervision and training of Wellpath staff.

A spokesperson for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said Monday she is aware of the lawsuit, but declined to comment since the case is ongoing. The Board of County Commissioners also declined comment. A spokesperson for Wellpath did not respond.

“We really felt that this was a failure of the medical staff at the jail,” said Virginia Butler, an attorney for Angelo’s family, “And really felt that the focus of this failure was on those providers and lack of care that they provided to Abby.”

But she added the sheriff’s department has a responsibility to make sure the health care company it contracts with provides adequate care.

Kristie Angelo said she did not know her daughter had even been arrested until she learned Abby had died. She said Abby had always called her when she got arrested previously to let her know where she was. The two were close, keeping in touch even though Kristie lives in Illinois and Abby lived in Colorado for the last several years before she died.

Kristie Angelo and Butler said they believe Abby would have been too delirious to remember her mother’s number or call her after her arrest because she was already so sick. The lawsuit says a friend visited Abby on June 27, after she was put on suicide watch. The friend reported Abby seemed confused, said she felt very sick and did not understand why she was dressed in a suicide smock.

Her mother said Abby had a bright future, even though her life was hard during her last few years. Kristie remembers her daughter as kind, warm and always wanting to help solve problems. She loved Hello Kitty and cooking, even though she always burned pancakes — something Kristie likes to laugh about.

Kristie’s mother has raised Abby’s son, and said he goes to private school and is doing well. She has not told him about his mother’s addiction, only saying she died of an infection. She prefers to pass on good stories and memories about his mother, and Kristie has started to see more of Abby’s qualities show up in her grandson.

“We try to focus on so many positive things and make such good memories,” Kristie Angelo said. “We have tons of pictures and stories that we share with him all the time.”

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