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Family of woman who died by suicide in the El Paso Co. Jail suing former jail medical provider

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- After reaching a $1 million settlement with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office in her death, the family of a woman who died by suicide in the county's jail in 2022 is now suing the former medical provider for the jail, claiming her pleas for help were ignored.

Dezaree Archuleta died inside the El Paso County Jail on June 9, 2022. She was found unresponsive in her cell three weeks after she began her time of incarceration there. Now, her family claims in a lawsuit against Wellpath, the former medical provider for the jail, that her repeated warnings about having thoughts of suicide were never taken seriously.

"Putting profits over people is unacceptable," said Andrew McNulty, attorney for Archuleta's family. "We will do everything in our power to hold them accountable."

The 74-page lawsuit outlines multiple instances over Archuleta's time in the El Paso County Jail where she verbalized to employees for Wellpath that she was contemplating dying by suicide, including one time when deputies found her with holes in her legs from using a screw to dig into them.

"Having an absolute dearth of any kind of licensed mental health professionals for a population in custody that includes many people with very severe mental health issues. It's not tolerable, and we need to do something about that," said Mari Newman, attorney for Archuleta's family.

In January, KRDO13 Investigates reporting revealed the El Paso County Sheriff's office decided to move on from Wellpath as their medical provider in the jail. Their contract ended at the conclusion of 2024, and the sheriff's office retained VitalCore as the new provider starting in 2024.

In recent years, Wellpath faced numerous lawsuits and dozens of jail deaths, sparking protests from the community. Archuleta was one of nine people who died while incarnated in the El Paso County Jail in 2022 under Wellpath's care.

"The proper scale to follow in these circumstances is a Columbia suicide severity scale and Wellpath doesn't follow that scale. It doesn't follow any other scale," McNulty said. "Instead it just passes the buck and takes people off of suicide watch because it takes too much manpower to monitor people within suicide cells."

KRDO13 Investigates reached out to Wellpath for comment on the lawsuit. At the time of publication, we have not received a response. For Archuleta's family, they say the filing of this lawsuit goes beyond the monetary. They are hoping policies surrounding requirements for profit-driven medical providers in county jails change.

"What we're looking for is changes in policy. A change in how we provide medical care to people in jail. We think it's appropriate for these counties to take it on themselves and not outsource it to private companies that are looking to purely profit off of people's misery," McNulty said.

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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