Weld sheriff’s office, state patrol investigate death of jail inmate
April 11, 2014
Weld County Sheriff's Office investigators believe the man who died last Friday after having been an inmate in the Weld County Jail likely became ill after he took prescription medication he had in his possession while he was in the custody of the Colorado State Patrol.
Barton James Grubbs, 52, of Montrose was arrested March 27 by Colorado State Patrol officers for suspicion of driving under the influence and other traffic-related charges. He was booked into the Weld County North Jail.
Weld County Sheriff's Office Bureau Chief Steve Reams said the sheriff's office investigation, which is ongoing, indicates that Grubbs ingested some pills while he was in the custody of the Colorado State Patrol before coming to the jail.
Later, he became ill and had to be taken to North Colorado Medical Center, where he eventually died.
“We have a bunch of safety protocols built into place. In all fairness, those things worked.
Weld County Sheriff’s Office Bureau Chief
"All we really have to work off of is what his word was coming into the facility," Reams said, noting that Grubbs changed his story several times that night after initially telling officers he had taken some pills.
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Reams said Grubbs was medically assessed and placed on suicide watch based on jail protocol, shortly after he entered the jail. Reams said the pills were confiscated when Grubbs was pat-searched, which is standard procedure.
"That's when it was discovered he had a pill bottle on him, and there were some questions going backward about while he was in the custody of Colorado State Patrol," Reams said.
He said when officers questioned Grubbs, he told them he did not want to commit suicide. However, when they asked him if he would tell them if was planning to take his own life, he said he would not. That's why he was placed on suicide watch.
Reams said when an inmate is on suicide watch, a deputy checks the inmate at intervals no longer than five minutes. He said during the course of several hours, officers observed that the man wasn't moving much and didn't look well.
"While they were checking on him, one of the officers just said, 'You know we ought to have him checked on again.' "
Reams said they called a nurse at that point.
"His vitals had basically taken a dive, so that's when he was transported to the hospital," Reams said.
At that point, he also was released from the custody of the Weld County Jail on a personal recognizance bond shortly after his transport to NCMC. Reams said that is standard procedure in cases involving misdemeanor charges.
Grubbs died at NCMC early March 28.
Reams said investigators are waiting on the toxicology report from the autopsy to determine whether the pills in the medicine bottle matched the pills listed on the label and when Grubbs may have taken them.
"We have a bunch of safety protocols built into place," Reams said. "In all fairness, those things worked."
He said the case was not as straightforward as was initially reported, pointing out that Grubbs had a lengthy history of drinking alcohol.
"Anytime you're mixing prescription pills with alcohol, you never know what's going to play out," he said. "This isn't as cut-and-dry as, 'We're investigating a suicide,' as was initially talked about. We don't know if that's the case."
Colorado State Patrol spokesman Trooper Josh Lewis said the State Patrol also is conducting its own investigation independently of the sheriff's office.
He said for that reason he couldn't discuss the case. However, he did say there is no set protocol for whether officers will confiscate medication from a suspect when making an arrest.