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Family sues after man dies in El Paso County jail, alleging ‘disturbing’ trend of medical neglect

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- A Colorado Springs family filed a lawsuit Monday against the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, Board of County Commissioners, and Wellpath. The suit claims the death of 49-year-old Cristo Canett happened due to medical neglect within the El Paso County Jail.

Canett was in the jail for only two days when he died from a perforated ulcer.

"There's a disturbing pattern, as we all know, in the El Paso County Jail specifically, where we've seen death after death over the last couple of years," said prosecutor Anna Holland Edwards, representing Canett's family.

Canett was taken into the El Paso County Jail while waiting for medical help at a Colorado Springs Emergency Room, where he was for the second time in two weeks due to severe pain in his side.

Before Canett could be seen by a doctor, he got into an argument with a family member and police were called to the hospital.

Canett was taken to the El Paso County Jail on an outstanding warrant, and once he got there, surveillance video inside the jail shows Canett wincing and holding his stomach.

"He asked for a nurse," said Holland Edwards. "He was moaning so loud in pain that the deputies could hear him outside the door, and they called several times for medical to come."

However, Canett was never seen by a doctor.

According to the lawsuit, Canett told the booking deputy at the jail, "that he went to the hospital for back pain, felt sick, nauseous, and that he had been throwing up all day."

A Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) then conducted an assessment known as a "receiving screening" to determine if Canett needed medical care.

Despite Canett's pain, the lawsuit claims the Wellpath medical staff in the jail "chose not to conduct any physical assessment, take a full set of vials," or refer Canett to follow-up medical attention.

The county hired Wellpath, a provider based out of Nashville, Ten., to provide medical care at the jail in 2019. At that time, county officials told KRDO it was hard to obtain medical care for inmates.

Canett was sent to a cell instead of the medical unit, and hours later, he was in a wheelchair due to his pain.

A concerned deputy told the jail's charge nurse that Canett's medical condition was "unnerving."

According to the lawsuit, a nurse responded by claiming, "Medical was aware of his condition and his pain."

Hours after that, Wellpath sent up an EMT to Canett's cell with Tylenol and Ibuprofen. Later that night, a deputy found Canett dead.

The El Paso County Coroner determined Canett died from a perforated ulcer, causing him to bleed internally to death.

KRDO learned his death was the 27th El Paso County jail death in the last five years.

Three of the deaths were reported as homicides, four as accidents, six as suicides, and fourteen as natural deaths.

Within those same five years, El Paso County has been sued four times regarding jail deaths.

Inmate deaths in El Paso County have led to multiple protests. In 2022, the family of 24-year-old Savannah Poppel called for reform and more rehabilitation resources for patients.

Canett's death was classified as a natural death, but Holland Edwards argues that a death being natural does not mean that the death was not preventable.

"Natural is anything that you die of as part of your body, whether it was preventable or not, doesn't determine whether it's considered natural," said Holland Edwards.

This lawsuit alleges his and the deaths of other inmates are the responsibility of the defendants, as Cristo's family continues to demand accountability.

"It's horrible," said Cristo's sister Elizabeth. "It's horrible that you know, we have to live with that. His family, his son, his nieces, his nephews, all of us."

KRDO reached out to the El Paso County Board of Commissioners, the Sheriff's Office, and Wellpath for comment. They all responded that they cannot comment on pending litigation.

Article Topic Follows: Top Stories
Criminal Justice Center
Cristo Canett
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Annabelle Childers

Annabelle is a reporter for KRDO NewsChannel 13. Learn more about her here.


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