On September 7, 2017, Mr. Eliezer Tirado-Ortiz was found unresponsive and later died while in custody in the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center (CJC). El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder requested the assistance of the Colorado Springs Police Department to independently investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr. Tirado-Ortiz’s death. A synopsis of the investigative findings follows.
On September 7, 2017, at approximately 10:48 AM, El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to a disturbance at 2864 South Circle Drive. The disturbance involved a man later identified as 40 year old Eliezer Tirado-Ortiz (hereinafter referred to as Mr. Ortiz). Mr. Ortiz had reportedly been acting erratically. He was said to have punched the elevator, punched various doors, and to have thrown things in the parking lot. Deputies arrived on scene and detained Mr. Ortiz. After he was placed in a sheriff’s patrol car, Mr. Ortiz began banging his head against the window, was sweating heavily, and was generally behaving in a hyper-active manner. The deputies suspected Mr. Ortiz was under the influence of an unknown narcotic. When asked what his drug of choice was, Mr. Ortiz replied that it was heroin. Mr. Ortiz was found to be in possession of a small amount of heroin and drug paraphernalia. He was subsequently placed into custody for Possession of a Schedule I narcotic, a felony offense, and transported to the CJC.
Most of the interaction between Mr. Ortiz and CJC staff members while he was at CJC was captured by cameras in the Sally Port vehicle area and within the booking area of the facility. While still in the patrol vehicle, Mr. Ortiz spoke very rapidly. He talked about many things including heroin, drugs, and methamphetamines. After arriving at CJC, the deputies with Mr. Ortiz requested a nurse assigned to the CJC medical staff come out to their vehicle. A nurse responded and was present when Mr. Ortiz was taken from the vehicle and escorted by deputies into the facility after he refused to move on his own. Mr. Ortiz was then escorted to a temporary holding cell.
In the holding cell, Mr. Ortiz continued screaming at the deputies and was non-compliant with their attempts to conduct a pat-down search of him. Mr. Ortiz was eventually placed onto his stomach. Additional deputies then entered the cell and attempted to restrain him. The deputies primarily restrained the arms and legs of Mr. Ortiz, but did utilize hand and knee strikes as they attempted to place a “spit” sock over his face and to replace his clothing with a safety gown. A spit sock is a hood made of breathable material used to prevent the transfer of diseases from spitting and biting. A safety gown is clothing which inhibits acts of self-harm and is used as a suicide prevention tool.
A total of six deputies responded in an attempt to restrain Mr. Ortiz. The nurse then entered the cell to check Mr. Ortiz’s leg restraints and to check his pulse. Deputies continued their efforts to get the safety gown on Mr. Ortiz and/or restrain him. One deputy attempted to photograph Mr. Ortiz, but the camera failed.
Approximately ten minutes and thirty eight seconds after deputies initially entered the cell with Mr. Ortiz, they placed him onto his side (described as a recovery position) and left the cell. Mr. Ortiz rolled back on to his stomach and appeared unresponsive. Approximately one minute later, deputies reentered the cell to attend to Mr. Ortiz. They were assisted by CJC nursing staff, and AMR ambulance personnel also later responded to assist with rendering medical aid to Mr. Ortiz. The medical aid included CPR and the administration of Narcan. Narcan is a nasal spray which is used to counteract the life-threatening effects of opioid overdose. Unfortunately, medical personnel could not revive Mr. Ortiz and he was pronounced deceased.
An autopsy of Mr. Ortiz was completed by the El Paso County Coroner’s Office. The attending forensic pathologist determined the cause of death to be the result of heroin and methamphetamine intoxication associated with necessary physical restraint by law enforcement. He determined the manner of death to be homicide based on the recommendation by the National Association of Medical Examiners concerning deaths associated with physical restraint by law enforcement. He also noted homicide means death at the hands of another person, but does not imply wrongdoing or criminal intent.
The completed investigation was forwarded to the Tenth Judicial District Attorney’s Office for their review to determine if there would be any criminal charges associated with the death of Mr. Ortiz. This request was made by the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office after it was determined that an uninvolved member of their staff is a relative of an employee who works at CJC. The Tenth Judicial District Attorney’s Office agreed to conduct this review to ensure impartiality in the review process. Upon completion of their review, they determined evidence does not exist to prosecute any of the involved law enforcement officers, law enforcement personnel, and/or medical staff in regards to the death of Mr. Ortiz. The death of Mr. Ortiz was determined to be a tragic event precipitated by the use of heroin and methamphetamines.