...It's Not Usually Meted Out For Shoplifting, But Rene Colores Got It Anyway.
By Chris Limberis
RENE COLORES IS neither an angel nor the devil. He is, however, dead.
Messed up on his final dose of smack and drowning in his own phlegm, Colores was vomiting, coughing and writhing as his sad life ended at age 22 in the Pima County Jail on April 23 last year.
Now his father, Raymond Colores, wants money--big money--from the county and the city, whose police officers arrested his son for shoplifting at Tucson Mall the day before he died of bilateral bronchopneumonia.
Raymond Colores knows about loss. His wife is dead. A daughter is dead. And he gets around in a wheelchair because diabetes has taken his legs.
His boy, Rene, liked heroin. Born in Los Angeles, he moved to Tucson four years ago. He did not work. Sometimes he went by the name Rudy Padilla. Other times, Negro. To support his habit, police say, Rene Colores stole. The day before he died, he lifted clothes at Dillard's that he planned to sell to support a drug habit that ran to $175 a day. Three months earlier he was arrested for stealing a car. He was in and out jail and residential drug treatment. He'd been living in rehabilitation at Victory Outreach after Pima County Pretrial Services recommended that he be released from jail in March 1997 following the auto theft arrest.
Now Raymond Colores has a lawyer. William B. Lucas, a former Bullhead City prosecutor and an assistant city attorney in Denver, filed suit against the city and county on behalf of Raymond Colores almost a year after his son died.
Lucas says Rene Colores' pleas for medical help were ignored and that the lack of adequate medical attention led to Rene Colores' death. Lawyers for the city and county, in recent responses, deny police or jail officials did anything to contribute to Rene Colores' death.
There are 27 divisions and judges in Pima County Superior Court. The Colores case landed before Judge Deborah Ann Bernini, who has yet to recuse herself despite being married, since March 22, 1996, to Frank F. Obregon, a jail corrections officer for the past 14 years.
The lawsuit also is raising serious questions about conflicts between the court and jail when inmates are sick. Colores was hacking, throwing up and in pain while at the jail. Even jail officials say that inmates and others noted the overwhelmingly foul smell of his severe infection.
Arizona criminal procedure requires people who are arrested to have their initial appearance before a judge or magistrate within 24 hours of arrest. Release is required if the deadline is not met. Colores, jail documents show, was in the medical line waiting to see a doctor when he was called to get in the court line. Most initial appearances and arraignments are done via a video-audio linkup between the court and the jail.
Michael J. Brown, the presiding judge of Superior Court and an official who is usually unavoidable for comment, refused to discuss those procedures and conflicts arising out of inmate medical cases.
Designed for 1,147 people, but containing a daily average of 1,339, Pima County Jail is overcrowded and busy. The frenetic intake area is a mill for nearly 80 new inmates a day. And they're not a healthy lot. Many are like Rene Colores: sick, drug-addicted and uninsured. In fact, once incarcerated, everyone is uninsured.
Richard Boykin is a former Pima County sheriff who's now in charge of the jail.
"These people are not like most of the rest of society," Boykin said. "We get a population that's not in the best of health. Many have severe drug problems. Many have severe infections. Unfortunately, we get people in bad, bad shape. In this particular case, he was filled with infection."
The jail's medical unit, operating on a budget of $1.7 million this year, has a doctor and 15 nurses. A chief nurse-practitioner typically sees 20 inmate patients a day. Medical costs are down at the jail, which in some years has seen costs jump dramatically with just a single operation, such as heart surgery.
Colores was the second sick inmate to die after incarceration at the jail in the last 16 months. Jerry James, a 300-pound 29-year-old died December 26, 1996. He also had severe pneumonia, according to an autopsy report. The difference in the James case is that with his severe fever--104--James was sent by a jail nurse on Christmas to the county's Kino Community Hospital. But Kino sent James back without doing a chest X-ray or any lab work. James' next stop, like Colores', was St. Mary's Hospital, where he died.
It's up to plaintiff's attorney Lucas to find out how Colores slipped through the cracks.
Assistant City Attorney Michael Owen, in his motion asking Judge Bernini to dismiss the city as a plaintiff, says the city had no duty to provide medical care to Colores. Two similar affidavits from city cops James Stoutmeyer and Mark Cassel portray Colores as an admitted "heroin addict or junkie."
At about 2:30 p.m. on April 22 last year, Stoutmeyer arrested Colores, who also had an outstanding warrant on the previous auto theft charge. Stoutmeyer said that Colores admitted he'd last shot up at about noon. Asked about his condition when he coughed, Colores, according to the cops, said he was coming down with a cold.
Lucas said Colores either never said he was on heroin or said it "just to jack up the police."
Lucas casts doubts about the cops' statements and questions who wrote the affidavits.
Colores, a slight person at 5-foot 4-inches and 115 pounds, was booked into the jail at 5:39 p.m. He was coughing and vomiting for hours, Lucas says. He begged for medical attention. Finally seen by a nurse or nursing assistant, Colores was given a dose of Mylanta and told to lie down. Later, Lucas said, Colores was moved to another cell so he would not bother a cellmate. He was given a wastebasket to catch his vomit, but he was given nothing to combat his dehydration.
An internal sheriff's memo states Colores was in line at 10 a.m. on April 23 to see a doctor. But he was called out for his initial appearance and was placed in the doctor's schedule for the next day. But by 3:48 p.m., he was dead.
The autopsy the following day said: "There are no definite identifiable needle tracks in Colores' heavily tattooed arms." But subsequent lab tests showed opiates and marijuana in Colores' urine.
Lucas calls the autopsy report "contradictory." He also questions the relevance of drug-use evidence in this case.
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