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Death of inmate restrained facedown inside Adams County Jail ruled homicide

9NEWS started asking for the autopsy report months ago. The autopsy suggests deputies played a role in the death of Arthur Roybal, but so did drug use.

DENVER — Five months after the death of an Adams County jail inmate with mental illness, the coroner’s office has concluded his death was a homicide.

Arthur Roybal died after 16 minutes of prone – or facedown – restraint. While that restraint was a “contributing factor” in the death, the Adams County Coroner also concluded Roybal had a substantial amount of meth in his system.

“I believe that this man would not have died at this time if he was not intoxicated by methamphetamine,” Dr. Stephen Cina wrote in the autopsy report.

It’s not clear how an inmate who had spent many months inside the Adams County Detention Center might have obtained meth.

Cina added, “In my opinion, after reviewing copious video footage, prolonged restraint in a prone position contributed to the death to some degree.”

None of the deputies involved in the restraint of Roybal have been disciplined, even though the facedown restraint appears to have been a violation of the county’s own policy.

That policy, according to documents obtained by 9NEWS, says “restrained inmates shall not be placed facedown.”

Yet that’s precisely what Adams County deputies and at least one privately contracted nurse did to Roybal on Christmas Eve morning inside the jail.

A body camera recording shows deputies openly considering options outside cell number 34 as Roybal – naked and delirious – screams from within his cell.

Deputies devised a plan to extract him from the cell and deliver him to the jail’s medical bay.

They placed him in handcuffs, largely without incident, and carried him to a gurney that was set below a small flight of stairs.

As they arrived, one deputy asked, “Facedown?”

Another answered, “Facedown.”

They then placed him facedown, into the gurney, and strapped him in.

Eric Jaeger is an EMS educator based in New Hampshire. 9NEWS asked him to review the body camera as part of this investigation.

He called the restraint of Roybal a classic case of what not to do.

“It’s been clear for decades that EMS professionals should never restrain an individual prone in a stretcher due to the risk of death,” he said.

The Adams County Sheriff’s Office has continually denied requests for an on-camera interview. Tuesday, through a spokesperson, we received the following written statement:

“The Adams County Sheriff’s Office is saddened by the unfortunate event that led to Mr. Roybal’s death. Our internal investigative process will begin after the District Attorney’s Office investigation to not compromise the investigation. We will provide the District Attorney’s Office with all information needed for their investigation. Our internal investigation will determine if any policy violations occurred. As with any critical incident, we will review our policies and procedures to ensure we provide the best service to our community.”

Denver attorney David Lane, who represents the Roybal family, told 9NEWS, “There is no reason why an internal affairs review should happen after a DA’s investigation.”

“This is a delay tactic,” he said.

The 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office sent 9NEWS the following statement Tuesday:

“We recently received the autopsy report from the Adams County Coroner and the records from the Adams County Sheriff’s Office related to the death of Arthur Roybal in the Adams County Detention Center on December 24, 2022. We will begin our review of these materials and determine if any additional steps need to be taken as a result of our investigation. When it is appropriate to publicly release updates on our review, we will do so.”

> If you have any information about this investigation or any other investigation you think we should examine, feel free to email us at chris.vanderveen@9news.com

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