Call for Action Investigation: Coroner's office changes cause of death for inmate

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FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. (KKTV) - A local coroner's office is changing the cause of death for an inmate. Now the cause backs up the allegations in a federal lawsuit filed against several employees of the Fremont County Sheriff's Office.

John Walter

The El Paso County Coroner's office released a new report saying John Walter, 53, died from prescription drug withdrawal, according to our news partners at The Gazette.

The coroner's office changed the cause of death for Walter because they looked over more medical records and eyewitness accounts uncovered in the lawsuit.

The original autopsy report said his 2014 death was undetermined.

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

According to the new report, Walter died as a result of not being given his daily dosage of Benzodiazepine medication that treated his anxiety and chronic back pain.

"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."

Walter brought his prescriptions with him to the jail when he was booked on assault charges.

He was in custody for 18 days before he was found dead in his jail cell in April 2014.

A federal lawsuit has been filed against several employees of the Fremont County Sheriff's Office, including Sheriff James Beicker.

We've shown you video of the lawyer interviewing the sheriff in a previous 11 Call for Action Investigation.

"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 lawyer asks several questions throughout the video.

Budge: "After you found out that Mr. Walter died, what did you do to assure yourself that your officers followed department procedures and policies?"
Beicker: "Nothing."

11 News has reached out to Beicker in the past and he told us he cannot comment since the lawsuit is pending.

Budge sent us the following statement on Monday:

“This was a death of a U.S. Citizen that occurred in the Fremont County Jail. Yet, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office failed in its obligation to conduct a reasonable investigation into learning the true facts. We pursued those facts. And now, 3 years after Mr. Walter died in that jail we have a determination that he died from acute benzodiazepine withdrawal. In our view, his terrible death should never have occurred and we are anxious to continue working towards the pursuit of justice.” -Attorney Edwin Budge.

A trial date will be set later this fall. We will stay on top of the case and keep you updated.

Click here to read our previous 11 Call for Action Investigation.

Click here to read the full story from The Gazette.