Jail inmate's death blamed on heart

Man found in cell in distress, pronounced dead at hospital

A 47-year-old Cortez man was found unresponsive at the Montezuma County jail Friday morning. He was later pronounced dead at Southwest Memorial Hospital.

Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell said an autopsy revealed that 47-year-old Scott Watson of Cortez died Friday, Dec. 27, as the result of a heart aneurism. Detention officers discovered Watson inside his cell in medical distress, he added.

"EMS was immediately called, and the detention officer and the nurse started CPR," Spruell said.

According to Spruell, the inmate was brought into the jail the night before on a DUI charge with extremely high blood alcohol content. The man had eaten breakfast and made a phone call prior to showing signs of distress, Spruell said.

"Officers noticed (the inmate) didn't look good," said Montezuma County Undersheriff Lynda Carter.

According to Carter, detention staff initiated CPR on Watson at about 8:30 Friday morning while EMT's responded to the scene. An autopsy was conducted Saturday in Grand Junction, she said.

The death was the third reported inmate to die while in custody at the Montezuma County jail this year.

A 61-year-old Cortez man reportedly died at the Montezuma County jail from an apparent suicide on June 13. The second inmate to die at the jail was a 38-year-old Arizona man, who reportedly died from natural causes as the result of chronic alcohol abuse on Oct. 27.

District Attorney Will Furse declined to comment when asked if a special investigation would be launched into the series of inmate deaths.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the majority of inmate deaths are the result of heart attacks and suicides. In 2011, the latest figures available, a total of 885 deaths were reported in local jails. Across Colorado in 2011, 12 people died while in custody at local jails.

The National Commission on Correctional Health Care recommends when there is an inmate death, it should be reviewed to determine the appropriateness of clinical care; to ascertain whether changes to policies, procedures or practices are warranted; and to identify issues that require further study.

Carter said she believes the series of inmate deaths connected to alcohol could better be avoided if the county had a proper detox center. She said the jail is under-resourced to handle inmates that are extremely intoxicated.

"We need a detox center here so bad," Carter said.

An aneurysm, a bulge or ballooning in a blood vessel, can occur in any part of the body. Most occur on the wall of the aorta - the large trunk artery that carries blood from the left ventricle of the heart to branch arteries.