On the day he died, 53-year-old John Walter was found lying naked on the floor of his cell in the Fremont County Jail in full view of staff and inmates alike. He'd lost 30 pounds in the three weeks since he was booked on a charge of felony menacing. The autopsy revealed Walter suffered multiple injuries including broken ribs and internal bleeding.
Attorney Edwin Budge is representing Walter's estate in a Civil Rights lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office, Fremont County, and multiple medical vendors who provide care to inmates in Cañon City.
Budge told News 5 Investigates that Walter was taking the prescription anxiety medication Klonopin at the time of his arrest, but was consistently denied access to the drug during his incarceration. Abruptly stopping benzodiazepine medications such as Klonopin, Budge explained, can cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms that include confusion, hallucinations, loss of appetite, insomnia and seizures.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Walter's condition was not appropriately addressed, he was never taken to a hospital, and he died in custody," Budge said.
In a videotaped deposition recorded in November, Sheriff James Beicker repeatedly states that none of his deputies, the medical staff or other inmates were ever interviewed as part of the investigation, contrary to typical procedure.
In the recording, Budge asks Beicker, "How do you know if there's any impropriety whatsoever if none of these people are ever interviewed, sir?"
"I don't believe that they've done anything wrong," Beicker replied. "So, there's been no reason to intervene further."
By keeping the investigation in-house, Budge said Walter's family and the public were denied important information about how he died.
"In that the Fremont County Sheriff's Office, to the extent that it conducted any investigation at all, was essentially investigating itself, that is a conflict of interest and it should not have occurred," Budge said.
The case is being tried in US District Court in Denver. The plaintiffs requested a jury trial and are seeking damages.