CFA Investigation: Lawsuit filed after inmate dies in Fremont County Jail

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FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. (KKTV) - 11 News has obtained the lawsuit filed after an inmate died in the Fremont County Jail. There are several defendants, including county employees and Fremont County Sheriff James Beicker.

John Walter

John Walter, 53, was in custody for 18 days before he was found dead in his jail cell. He died in April of 2014.

"This was totally, totally, avoidable and preventable," Seattle-based attorney Edwin Budge told 11 News in a phone interview.

11 News has the deposition video of the lawyer interviewing the sheriff. You can watch part of it in the video above.

"What have you done to try to figure out how Mr. Walter died in your jail?" Budge asks the sheriff in the deposition video.

Sheriff Beicker: "Personally, nothing."

The lawsuit alleges Walter was not given his medication for anxiety and chronic back pain -- Benzodiazepine and Methadone -- and that he suffered severe withdrawals.

"You cannot stop this type of medication cold turkey," Budge told 11 News reporter Katie Pelton. "The discontinuance suddenly of that medication can be extremely dangerous and it can be deadly."

"Mr. Walter was observed to be in an state of extreme mental confusion. He was profoundly ill, he was weak, he was losing profound amounts of weight," Budge added.

Yet, the lawyer says Walter was never taken to the hospital.

"Time after time after time, the corrections staff went to the medical staff at that jail and they complained repeatedly to the medical staff that Mr. Walter's condition appeared to be dire, that he was deteriorating rapidly, and that something needed to be done, and they did not respond to that," said Budge. "And then they did not take him to the hospital."

According to the lawsuit, jail workers used "extreme and objectively unreasonable force" on Walter while he was going through withdrawal symptoms, including pepper-spraying him and shocking him with a taser. The lawsuit also alleges severe beatings caused Walter to have numerous broken bones and internal bleeding.

"There are many, many unexplained injuries to Mr. Walter that we are continuing to try to find answers as to why they occurred in that jail," Budge told 11 News.

In the autopsy report, the coroner said there were "multiple incidents of 'use by force' by jail staff." It also said a reported history of "self-injurious and combative behaviors."

Budge: "Did anybody in your office do anything to try to determine how these injuries occurred, if you know?"
Sheriff Beicker: "Not that I'm aware of, no."

According to the autopsy, Walter's cause of death was undetermined.

Budge: "Do you have any intention to look into whether any policies were actually violated in the case of Mr. Walter?"
Beicker: "I don't have any plan right now."

11 News reached out to Beicker for an interview. He told us he cannot comment since the civil case is still pending.

Budge: "Did anybody at the Fremont County Sheriff's Office to your knowledge request that any agency outside of Fremont County investigate or participate in any investigation into the death of Mr. Walter in your jail?"
Sheriff Beicker: "No."

11 News will keep you updated on the case.