The family of a 24-year-old Mesa County man with severe intellectual disabilities will receive $2 million from the county and the jail’s former health care provider to settle a lawsuit alleging he died after the jail’s staff neglected to make sure he took his life-saving seizure medication.
The settlement comes nearly a decade after Tomas Beauford, who had the mental capacity of a 5-year-old and was unable to care for himself, was found dead in his cell in April 2014. Mesa County agreed to pay $1.6 million to settle the case and $400,000 will come from Correct Care Solutions, now known as WellPath, which contracted with the county to provide medical services to inmates, according to the settlement agreement obtained Monday.
Beauford’s mother, Tiffany Marsh, said her son was mentally ill — not a criminal — and his death was a result of the jail staff’s indifference toward his medical and intellectual needs. She described the nine years since his death of her first-born son as “pure hell,” though the settlement was “vindicating.”
“You’re supposed to be treated like you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty. They did not treat him like he was a human being at all, let alone an innocent person,” Marsh said during a news conference Monday in downtown Denver.
The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the jail, declined to comment and the settlement agreement said the defendants do not admit liability.
But in a letter to Beauford’s mother from Mesa County Sheriff Todd Rowell, included in the settlement, Rowell apologized that her son died in the county’s care. The jail has since switched health care providers and has implemented a program to train staff how to better care for incarcerated people with severe mental disabilities, wrote Rowell, who was elected sheriff in 2021.
The county will also place a memorial plaque with Beauford’s photo near the jail entrance. Below his photo a message will read: “May we never forget Tomas. May we work diligently, every day, to provide the best medical and mental health care we are able, for all those in our custody.”
Marsh said she hopes it serves as a constant reminder to treat those in jail with dignity.
“My son got the death penalty. He was supposed to come home in April and he died in April,” she said.
Nashville-based WellPath, which contracted with the county to provide medical services to inmates, did not immediately return a request for comment. Former Sheriff Stan Hikey, 16 jail staff members and four nurses were also named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Beauford’s family said jail staff were well aware of his intellectual disability and epilepsy and that Beauford had seizures while he was being booked into the facility in March 2014 after he got into a fight at Grand Junction Regional Center, a facility for those with severe disabilities and mental illness.
He was charged with a misdemeanor and was awaiting a bond hearing when he died six weeks after his arrest, the lawsuit stated.
While entering jail, staff confiscated the medical device he used to combat seizures, called a vagus nerve stimulator.
Marsh told jail staff that her son, who had an IQ of 52, could be bribed with Sprite or root beer to take the medicine he needed to survive, but when Beauford refused to take his medication, staff often shrugged and nothing more was done to make sure he received adequate care, Marsh said.
Beauford had multiple seizures while he was in jail and hours before his death, jail deputies saw him lying on his stomach in his cell but did not enter his cell to check on his well-being for several hours, according to the lawsuit. When a deputy looked inside and didn’t see Beauford moving, he called for a nurse, who determined he wasn’t breathing. Beauford was declared dead 30 minutes after a deputy began performing CPR.
“He should not have been put in jail. Tomas was not a danger to anyone,” Marsh said. “He was more of a danger to himself than he was to anybody else.”
Beauford’s death shows that private, for-profit health care companies across the country care more about making money than providing care to incarcerated people, attorney David Lane said.
“Every dollar they save on health care is $1 in profit that they make and no one bothered to do anything for Tomas. Despite his obvious serious medical needs, they did nothing and he died as a result,” he said.
Beauford “would unquestionably still be alive today” if the jail staff had not ignored his medical needs, the suit stated.
Beauford was Marsh’s first of four children and called him her “best decision” after he was conceived after she was raped at age 16, Marsh said. She remembered her son as loving and generous, often giving his hard-earned money to anyone in need.
“He was my ride or die, my everything,” Marsh said. “He taught me how to become a better person.”