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Man who gouged his eyes out while incarcerated at Boulder County Jail to receive $2.55M settlement

Family wants to see more focus on mental health treatment inside jails
Ryan Partridge
Posted at 8:38 PM, Aug 09, 2023

BOULDER, Colo. — A man who gouged his eyes out during a mental health crisis while incarcerated at the Boulder County Jail in December 2016 has reached a $2.55 million settlement with the county

Ryan Partridge named then-Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle and 21 others — including administrators of the jail, deputies and sergeants of the jail and other jail staff — in a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2017, claiming they should have known something like this would happen. Partridge's attorneys argued that the jail let his mental health go untreated and the incident could have been prevented.

According to the lawsuit, Partridge experienced a "deep, severe, schizophrenic psychosis" and had previously harmed himself while incarcerated. He also had a history of refusing to take medication, the lawsuit states. Attorneys claimed the jail "simply left his psychosis untreated."

Partridge and Boulder County reached a settlement, and the county will pay Partridge $2.55 million.

Local News

Psychotic inmate plucks out eyes, sues sheriff

1:58 AM, Dec 09, 2017

Despite the settlement, Partridge and his family do not believe that justice has been served.

“This is a form of justice for me, but it's not justice in its essence," Partridge said from his Boulder home, where he lives with his parents.

His father, Richard Partridge, said the money is the only remedy that can be provided. His son's eyesight is something that can never be brought back.

"How much money would you take to be blind the rest of your life?" Richard asked. "It's not about the money.”

Partridge's days have changed significantly over the past seven years. He describes his days as more methodical and routine, and says it takes more time to complete simple tasks, like making coffee. However, his mental health has improved.

“I've pretty much been asymptomatic recently, and I feel like I'm recovering," said Partridge.

Partridge's mother, Shelley Partridge, said every night before she falls asleep, she replays what happened to her son. Now, she hopes to sleep well since a settlement has been reached.

The family said solitary confinement and qualified immunity are issues they want to see addressed, especially when it comes to how mental health is handled within jails.

“Some people probably view it as, that I did it to myself... we also were fighting uphill against qualified immunity for a lot of the people in our lawsuit," said Partridge, explaining some of the challenges within their case.

Shelley said the family moves forward by doing what they have always done.

“We take care of each other," she said. “We're lucky to have Ryan here. There's lots of people, you know, who lose their loved one in this situation.”

In a statement, the Boulder County Sheriff's Office said the settlement funds are from the county's insurance. A spokesperson said the department did not believe that any of the staff involved in the incident were at fault or violated the law.

The sheriff's office said it continues to "explore and implement methods" to better help inmates with mental health challenges.

The Boulder County Sheriff, using funds from the county’s insurance carrier, reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed by former Boulder County Jail inmate Ryan Partridge. The Sheriff does not believe any of the staff involved in the incident were at fault or violated the law. Nonetheless, it is our hope that the settlement will provide some closure for Mr. Partridge, his family, and the Sheriff’s Office employees who were impacted by the tragic events in which Mr. Partridge harmed himself during a mental health crisis he experienced in the jail.

The events in this case occurred in 2016, and are an example of the ongoing struggles faced by both jail inmates with severe mental illness and the staff who must care for often extremely violent and unpredictable inmates within the limits imposed by state law. The Jail employs a highly qualified medical team that provides medical and mental health treatment to inmates, and it has protocols aimed at preventing at-risk inmates from causing self-harm. However, the jail cannot offer the same level or scope of treatment as a hospital. Under state law, jail medical staff are prohibited from involuntarily administering psychotropic medications to inmates who have been prescribed, but decide to discontinue, these medications, even when such inmates are experiencing extreme symptoms. This leaves jails dependent on the state hospital to admit inmates who need a higher level of long-term care than the jail can provide.

At the time of Mr. Partridge’s injury, he was under a court order to receive mental health services at the state hospital in Pueblo. While Mr. Partridge was in the jail’s custody, Sheriff’s Office employees repeatedly tried to get him into a facility that could provide him a higher level of mental health treatment than available in a jail setting. Despite those efforts, Mr. Partridge remained in the jail.

Boulder County and the Sheriff’s Office continue to explore and implement methods to better assist mentally ill inmates in the face of persistent, lengthy wait times at the state hospital. The Boulder County Jail now hosts the RISE Program, a jail-based competency restoration program created in partnership with the Colorado Department of Human Services. Boulder County also advocated for Senate Bill 18-263, which would have created a pilot program to allow for court approval of treatment medications to be administered in the jail, but the bill failed. Boulder County will continue to advocate for a better state system for mental health treatment, including reducing wait times.

Partridge's mother said the statement from the sheriff's office is "the same every time."

Denver7 asked the sheriff's office about its policies regarding solitary confinement. A spokesperson said the jail does have "some inmates in single, non-shared, cells with limited out-of-cell time."

Those with the jail call the practice administrative segregation or restrictive housing. They said it is reviewed periodically to ensure it is in line with best practices or any changes in the law. The policy surrounding restrictive housing was last updated in June.

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