Colorado jail deputies failed to check on inmate after he made suicidal comments. They didn’t find his body for 8 hours.

Jackson Maes died by suicide alone in a Colorado jail cell after making several comments about wanting to kill himself to deputies, who did not remove items from the cell that could be used for self-harm and who did not check on him for more than eight hours.

His crime? Missing a court date on a traffic ticket.

The 27-year-old from Denver died about 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 16, 2019. Deputies with the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office did not find his body until 7 a.m. the following day, according to sheriff’s office documents and a lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of his mother Sarah Lieberenz.

“More than anything, I don’t want this to happen to anybody else’s family ever again,” Lieberenz said. “I have no idea why they didn’t help him. I can make assumptions, but I’ll never know what was in their hearts when they ignored his cries for help.”

Jackson is one of at least seven people who died by suicide in Colorado jails in 2019. There is no official statewide collection of jail suicide statistics, but data collected by the Reuters news organization shows that at least 71 people died by suicide in Colorado’s 10 largest jails between 2008 and 2019.

National statistics show that suicide is the leading cause of death for people in local jails — accounting for about a third of the approximate 1,000 people who die in jails every year.

Lawyers for Maes’s family sued the sheriff’s office, the deputies involved as well as the board of county commissioners that governs the southern Colorado county of about 6,600 residents. The lawsuit alleges the county failed to properly fund the sheriff’s office, leading to the hiring and retention of unqualified deputies, poor training and inadequate health care at the jail.

“For years, Saguache County leadership have been warned about and witnessed unconstitutionally dangerous conditions at the jail, which resulted from underpayment of staff, poor training and aging facilities,” the law firms Lieberenz — Bryan & Terrill and Dormer Harpring — said in a statement. “But both the county commissioners and county sheriff decided to devote funds elsewhere, allowing unconstitutionally dangerous conditions at the jail to continue.”

The Saguache County attorney had not returned a call for comment Wednesday.

Maes spent most of his life in Denver, his mother said, but moved to Crestone about nine months before his death in hopes of living a healthier life. He was a free spirit who worked in restaurants and occasionally played in punk rock bands, Lieberenz said. He loved deeply, she said, and often rescued kittens from the area where he lived on South Federal Boulevard. He also had alcoholism and depression, she said, and she often helped talk him through episodes of mental health crises.

“I did tell him the week before he died, he was feeling really low and sad, and I told him to call 911 and that they will help him,” she said. “And he said, ‘Nobody out here cares.’”

A Saguache County deputy first contacted Maes on Nov. 16, 2019, after a worker at a Crestone bar called 911 because she was worried about how drunk Maes had become, according to sheriff’s office documents provided to The Denver Post by Lieberenz’s attorneys. Maes could barely walk and was asking random people for a ride home, the caller said.

The deputy who contacted Maes found that he had a warrant for failing to appear in court for a traffic ticket and arrested him. Deputies placed Maes in a holding cell, where he began to repeatedly bang his head on the wall. He made multiple suicidal comments to the jail deputies, sheriff’s office reports and audio recordings show.

The deputies tried to place a call to mental health professionals, but nobody answered the call and the deputies neither left a voicemail nor tried to contact anybody else for help, reports from the sheriff’s office show. They also did not place him on suicide watch.

About 10:15 p.m., Maes began to create a way to hang himself in his cell — about seven minutes after a deputy left his cell for what would be the last time that night. Maes hanged himself at 10:21 p.m., video shows. At that time, and in the minutes before, deputies socialized in the dispatch room, the lawsuit states. Nobody physically checked on Maes or looked at the video feed of his cell.

“The video of Jackson is unobstructed; his need for immediate medical attention would be obvious to anyone adequately supervising him, and (deputies) Wilson, Wells, Shields and Macias explicitly acknowledged Jackson’s need for urgent medical attention before consciously abandoning those efforts while Jackson continued to express acute suicidal ideation,” the lawsuit states. “Jackson remained in a hanging position until he was discovered more than eight hours later.”

One deputy, however, wrote in the jail’s logbooks that he had checked on Jackson and the rest of the jail, which has a capacity of 21 inmates. Deputy Miguel Macias wrote that he checked on the cells at 11 p.m. and midnight, though video surveillance shows he did not, sheriff’s office disciplinary records show. The deputy who took over the watch at midnight also did not physically check the cells.

Macias was fired from the agency two days after Maes’s death. He was the only deputy disciplined in connection to Maes’s death, according to the lawsuit.

Best practices for preventing suicides in jails, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, include housing at-risk inmates with another cellmate and conducting frequent checks.

Saguache County was previously warned in a 2018 audit by its insurance company that it needed to remove items from jail cells that could be used to self-harm and that adequate, on-site medical services were needed as well, a copy of the audit recommendations show.

Lieberenz is still healing from the trauma of her son’s death, she said. She posted small pictures of him all over her home. The week before he died, Maes sent her some music he thought she would like, but she didn’t listen to the music that week.

Now she can’t bring herself to hit play.

“If they would’ve done the right thing, maybe he could’ve gotten better,” she said. “Now I’ll never know if he would’ve gotten better. They took away his opportunity to even try.”

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