By Brian Maass
AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – A CBS4 investigation has learned that a developmentally disabled man who died in the Mesa County Jail was not allowed to have a potentially life saving device which is designed to prevent or lessen epileptic seizures.
Tomas Beauford, 24, died in 2014 of an epileptic seizure.
“He was neglected to death,” said his mother Tiffany Marsh, of Aurora. “I did not know my son was going to die in jail.”
Beauford was severely developmentally disabled, operating at the level of either a 6 year old or an 8 year old, according to various assesments. His IQ was 52. He also suffered from epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.
To ease the epileptic seizures, Beauford had what’s known as a Vagus Nerve Stimulator implanted in his body.
It’s commonly referred to as a “pacemaker for the brain” and sends electrical impulses to the brain which can stop, or lessen the severity of the seizures.
Many patients wear a magnetic bracelet as part of the treatment. When the patient feels a seizure coming on, they can swipe the magnet over the VNS implant in their chest, and trigger the electronic impulses that end the seizures.
But the CBS4 investigation found that when Beauford was booked into the Mesa County Jail in 2014, jailers took away his 2 VNS magnetic bracelets.
An autopsy shows that Beauford died of “sudden unexpected death in epilepsy” at the jail April 15, 2014.
“It was like a diabetic needing their insulin or an asthmatic needing their inhaler,” said Marsh, who can’t understand why jail authorities wouldn’t allow her son to have the potentially lifesaving bracelets with him.
“My son wasn’t cared for in the right way. He wasn’t cared for at all,” said Marsh.
A spokesperson for the Mesa County sheriffs department declined to answer questions about the Beauford death, citing an ongoing lawsuit filed by Beauford’s mother.
Marsh said following her son’s death, jail administrators confirmed to her he had not been allowed to have his VNS magnetic bracelets.
Records reviewed by CBS4 show that the low functioning Beauford had been housed at the Grand Junction Regional Center, a state facility for the developmentally disabled.
However, he had become violent on a number of occasions, attacking fellow patients and staff members, prompting administrators to call police. The last time they did that — March 1, 2014 — Beauford had struck another patient and acted sexually inappropriately with a female staff member.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested him on assault charges and unlawful sexual contact. He was transported to the Mesa County Jail.
Beauford was asked to fill out a medical intake form which asked 11 questions.
He answered that he had medical conditions jailers needed to be aware of, said that he had mental health conditions and said that he suffered from seizures. However, a jail employee then filled out a “decision tree” form noting that Beauford had no observable medical special needs or history, no observable mental health special needs or history.
The jail also had records from a previous incarceration of Beauford noting that a court order existed “for Tomas to take meds.”
But jail records show that in the weeks prior to his death, Beauford refused to take medications prescribed to address his epilepsy. A jail nurse said that when Beauford would refuse to take his medications, she would comply with his desires and move on.
David Lane, an attorney representing Beauford’s family, said jailers had “an obligation to attend to his serious medical needs because he is developmentally disabled. He can’t make these decisions on his own and they know that.”
He said if Beauford refused to take epilepsy meds, jailers should have forced him to. Lane went on to say that separating Beauford from his VNS magnetic bracelet was a potentially fatal mistake.
“It was easily preventable. They need to recognize this is a medical device. It could have stopped the seizure, mitigated it and made it not as bad as it was.”
On the night of his death, jailers and medical staff noted that Beauford suffered multiple seizures earlier in the evening.
While the Mesa County jail would not discuss its policy toward VNS bracelets, other jails said they have no prohibition against those devices.
Mark Techmeyer, a spokesperson for the Jefferson County Jail, said “We would absolutely allow them. This is a medical need for an inmate.”
He went on to say that the jail recently had a female inmate who had a VNS implant and the jail made sure her VNS magnetic bracelet was “readily available.”
Julie Brooks, a spokesperson for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department, told CBS4, “If we did get an inmate with a VNS for seizures and they disclosed that and presented with a magnet, after review we would house the individual in an appropriate setting and allow the magnet, if possible.”
Several other jails and prison systems said they had not had a similar situation arise but were inclined to allow the medical bracelets.
Division Chief Jeff Goetz with the Boulder County Jail told CBS4 “If someone were to come into our facility with this condition, we would verify with our doctor and most likely the inmate would be allowed to keep their bracelet … as long as the item is not a security threat to the facility, it should be allowed in.”
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said “Obviously we don’t allow bracelets, rings, piercings, etc. for safety and security issues. However, if this device was deemed medically necessary by our medical staff and no alternatives(drugs) were available, of course we would allow it.”
Captain Kevin Duffy, detentions Captain for the Douglas County Sheriff, said since taking over the jail in 2014 he had not seen an inmate with a VNS bracelet.
“But if we did, we would work with our medical staff and if medically approved and there was no safety or security concerns, I would most likely allow the wristband to be worn. I would make this decision on a case-by- case basis,” he said.
Tiffany Marsh said she is hoping her son’s death prompts changes.
“I want justice. I want my son’s death to not be in vain. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. I want to see things changed. This shouldn’t happen.”
Lane said “What we are looking for is change at the jail. We don’t want them to continue to do these things.”