Mesa County settles for $2 million after intellectually impaired man dies in police custody

A lawsuit filed two years after an intellectually impaired man died in Mesa County while in police custody in 2014 has been settled for $2 million. 

Tomas Beauford, 27, lived at a group home for impaired individuals with intellectual disabilities in Grand Junction. According to the lawsuit filed by his family in 2016, Beauford had an IQ of approximately 52 — the intelligence level of a child. 

He was arrested by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office for a minor assault after becoming agitated one day at the group home, the lawsuit states. The complaint states the Mesa County Detention Center, which is operated by the sheriff’s office, took inadequate care of Beauford. 

He died of a seizure after not taking his epilepsy medication. 

According to the Killmer, Lane & Newman law firm, Beauford had severe epilepsy and needed to take medication to keep him alive. The firm said Beauford was treated like other inmates who don’t have disabilities. Beauford often refused to take his meds.

Defense attorney David Lane said in a statement that guards recognized that someone with Beauford’s handicap should not be in a position to refuse critical meds. 

“[They] would bribe him with soft drinks and food to take his meds,” Lane said in a statement. “He would generally respond and take them.” 

But most often, if he refused his meds, it was brushed off and nothing more would be done by jail staff or medical providers, the firm said. 

“This horrible failure to acknowledge Tomas’s disability coupled with the shocking neglect he suffered in the jail has led to this $2 million settlement,” Lane said in a statement. “... Tomas’s family hopes that this settlement will send a message to jails everywhere that they must treat disabled inmates as human beings.” 

The private health care provider at the jail, Correctional Health Care Companies, Inc., paid $400,000 in the settlement, and the county paid $1.6 million.

The sheriff’s office said it plans to provide annual training for staff on inmate refusal of medications, how to handle intellectually impaired inmates, and recognizing and treating seizures. They’ve also agreed to put a plaque in Beauford’s memory in an entryway at the jail for staff to see daily, the settlement states.

Mesa County Sheriff Todd Rowell in a letter addressed to Beauford’s mother, Tiffany Marsh, offered condolences on behalf of the department.

“I apologize to you and your family that your son, Tomas, died in our custody and care,” the letter reads. “... We take our responsibilities seriously, and while it may be difficult to find any positive from the loss of a loved one, please know we have examined and will continue to look for ways to improve ourselves, our policies and procedures, to make sure that all life is respected and cared for to the best of our ability.”