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Allegations of neglect at Denver’s jail after 71-year-old inmate dies

9Wants to Know has learned an inmate died in Denver’s downtown jail shortly after being put back into his cell despite experiencing “difficulty breathing."

DENVER — Two days before Leroy Taylor, 71, died in Denver’s downtown jail, his attorneys begged a judge for his early release because he was struggling to recover from COVID, according to court documents obtained by 9Wants to Know.

Taylor’s cellmate and family also told 9NEWS he was repeatedly denied medical care in the days leading up to his death on Feb. 9. 

Court paperwork filed on Feb. 7 paints a picture of an inmate who was suffering with COVID symptoms. However, a judge never ruled on the emergency motion seeking an early medical release. 

Taylor’s sentence for a probation violation stemming from a 2015 domestic violence case would have ended on Feb. 24, according to court records. 

“He sounded very sick,” said Sandra Manlove, Taylor’s sister, who talked to him from jail two days before he died. “It was hard to understand him, because of his throat. He said he was having difficulty breathing.”

When 9Wants to Know started asking questions the day after Taylor’s death, Daria Serna, spokeswoman for the Denver Sheriff Department, said in an emailed statement that he’d been “discovered non-responsive in a housing unit by deputies.”

“The inmate was not being monitored for COVID-19 symptoms,” Serna wrote Feb. 10 in response to questions raised by 9Wants to Know.

But Taylor’s cellmate in the downtown detention center told 9Wants to Know he was trying to get Taylor help throughout the last night of his life. 

“I noticed that he lost a lot of weight,“ said Mitchell Carree, who talked to 9NEWS from jail Monday. “And then his hands, they were blue. His hands were blue.” 

Carree said jail medical staff didn’t act fast enough while he spent all night taking care of his cellmate. 

 “They didn’t respond to his needs like they’re supposed to, because if you would have seen his hands -- they would have acted really fast and really aggressive in trying to get him to get some medical help. And they didn’t do that,” Carreee said. 

Taylor’s public defender talked to him on Feb. 7, and described the man in court paperwork as “barely audible.”  

Deputy Public Defender Alexandra Douglas filed the emergency motion asking for him to be released early saying, “Although Mr. Taylor had been released from the hospital to the Downtown Detention Center, Mr. Taylor continued to experience extraordinary difficulty breathing, among other symptoms.”

She also wrote, “Mr. Taylor’s continued incarceration as he struggles to recover from COVID-19 would violate Mr. Taylor’s rights against cruel and unusual punishment.”

Those same court documents show Taylor asked to remain in the hospital, but was denied because “too many inmates” were in need of medical care.  

Taylor was pronounced dead at Denver Health Medical Center on Feb. 9, two days after his attorney filed the emergency motion asking that he be released from jail. 

“Actually they killed the man – you know what I’m saying – because they didn’t act like they [were] supposed to,” Carree said from jail. 

Per protocol, as with any death in custody, the Denver Police Department has opened an investigation, according to the sheriff’s department. 

The jail declined to offer any more comment about the situation and deferred all questions to Denver Health because their agency made the medical decisions in Taylor’s situation. 

Denver Health wouldn’t answer questions, and instead sent the following statement:  

Denver Health is aware of the passing of the inmate in the jail. We express our condolences to the family. The cause of death is unknown at this time and we will continue to investigate this situation. 

Denver Police said they launched an investigation last week, as they would with any other death in custody, according to Serna.

The Denver coroner’s office is investigating the cause of death. In an email, a spokesperson said because of an increase in deaths, it could take 18 weeks to release a cause of death. 

Taylor’s family has retained an attorney. The Rathod Mohamedbhai law firm sent the following statement to 9NEWS:

What happened to Mr. Taylor while in the custody of the Denver Sheriff’s Department was nothing short of atrocious.  Mr. Taylor’s family deserves answers about how and why this was allowed to happen.

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