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Police consider reopening investigation into Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health

Johnstown PD in talks with Larimer County coroner
Johnstown PD
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Stephen Hanks
Posted at 6:10 PM, May 18, 2023

JOHNSTOWN, Colo. — The Johnstown Police Department is now discussing reopening its investigation into a Colorado mental health hospital, following disturbing new details uncovered by Denver7 Investigates.

On November 11, 2022, Christopher Dickson voluntarily admitted himself into Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health for alcohol detox. But the 39-year-old father never walked out of the facility meant to treat him. He died two days later.

After Dickson’s death, inspectors with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) moved in, declaring the facility in “immediate jeopardy,” the state’s most serious designation for a mental health hospital.

Chris Dickson

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Death at Johnstown Heights detox unit raising new questions

Tony Kovaleski
9:45 PM, May 01, 2023

The state also laid out a nearly 50-page report, citing at least 10 deficiencies at the facility. Some were directly related to Dickson’s treatment.

Earlier this month, Denver7 Investigates took that report and other findings to BJ Potts, a veteran nurse who worked at Johnstown Heights for six weeks, and Larimer County Coroner Stephen Hanks.

“In so many ways, Johnstown Heights is a s***hole," Potts said. "Nothing they're doing is helping the patients. There's no safety measures. And you're lucky if you can get out of there alive.”

Hanks publicly stated the new facts and evidence should prompt the police department to take a second look.

“I think that the elements are there that both civil and criminal negligence could apply, and that those arguments could be made," he said.

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Two state agencies confirm Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health investigation

Tony Kovaleski
9:45 PM, Apr 07, 2023

Officially, the coroner's office ruled Dickson's death an accident. That's because according to Hanks, national standards do not include “negligence” as a manner of death.

After Hanks' comment aired on Denver7, Johnstown PD issued a statement, expressing the possibility of their department re-opening an investigation into Johnstown Heights.

"The Johnstown Police Department is going to request a meeting with the Larimer County Coroner based on his public statement. For the JPD to reopen the case, the Coroner would need to amend the findings (which currently read as accidental) to give JPD probable cause to reopen the case and move forward with the production of records requests that were previously denied by the Larimer County DA."

It's important to note, the coroner's conclusion came prior to the new information uncovered by Denver7 Investigates.

"We can't bring Christopher back, but I think there could be hope that there's some justice out there that can be done," Hanks said.

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