Photos by Pam Zubeck
A ward much like this one served as the scene of an inmate fight that sent one inmate to the hospital.
An inmate at El Paso County's Criminal Justice Center was beat up by fellow prisoners so severely, he was shipped to a local hospital — after jailers discovered his injuries hours after the assault, according to sources and an investigative report obtained by the Independent
In fact, a source familiar with jail operations tells the Indy
the injured inmate was obscured after being stuffed under a bunk. Jailers missed him during at least two head counts, the source, who asked to remain anonymous because they aren't authorized to speak about the incident and fear retaliation, says.
When asked about the incident, Sheriff's Office spokesperson Jackie Kirby initially said via email, "There is nothing which happened at the jail as you describe. It is nearly an impossibility for this to happen and be missed for such a lengthy period of time and without the knowledge and involvement from staff."
After the Indy
provided Kirby with the name of the injured inmate, Dante Cedillo, Kirby said in an email:
Due to the severity of the allegations in your email yesterday, I kept looking into this. There was an assault/fight which occurred on Saturday, June 29, 2019. There are several inaccuracies in the information you were given. This is still an active investigation and information cannot be released at this time.
's source tells us that Cedillo bore serious injuries to his face, including swollen jaws, lips and blackened eyes on June 30 around the time breakfast is served. Cedillo was conscious when found, but the source said it appeared the inmate was beaten prior to the lunch meal the prior day, June 29. It's unclear how jailers didn't know he had been assaulted when serving lunch and dinner that day.
A worker prepares to deliver meals to inmates.
The source says standard procedure is to conduct a "face check" on inmates at mealtimes to verify they're OK. The Sheriff's Office wants "to know if someone has been beat up," the source says.
According to a report of the incident, Cedillo told deputies he "got jumped" around noon on June 29 in a cell next to the shower facility on the upper tier of the ward. "I walked in a cell and I don't remember much after that," the report quoted Cedillo telling the deputy.
Cedillo, who had been booked into jail on a robbery charge, also told deputies the fight was over gang members "disrespecting" his gang. Video footage showed another inmate "popping out" of his lower tier cell at 12:02 p.m., and going up to the upper level where Cedillo was located. He's then seen on video talking to other inmates before returning to his cell and "popping" back in, the report said.
The source says locks on cells are easy to jimmy open with "a cardboard toilet paper roll."
Other inmates told deputies that Cedillo was "calling out" the Crips, Bloods, Gangster Disciples and the "Serenos" gangs. Despite other inmates telling him him to stop, Cedillo continued and even challenged other inmates to a fight. Later, Cedillo was "jumped by more than six other inmates," the report says, quoting an inmate.
When asked to identify his attackers, Cedillo wouldn't cooperate and said, "the beef was over and he didn't want to talk any further with the Police," the report said.
The sheriff's report said due to Cedillo's lack of cooperation, "no criminal charges are pending at this time" and that the report was "for informational purposes."
Cedillo was treated at Memorial Hospital and returned to jail that same day. He was released July 3.
The source familiar with the jail says the incident demonstrates lack of sufficient staff training, high turnover and short staffing, facility shortcomings, such as poorly lit wards and locks that can be easily unlocked by inmates, and inexperienced jail staff who are "overwhelmed."
Sheriff Bill Elder announced in June 2018 that he would reduce the amount of training
provided to newly hired jailers to save money and allow him to get more deputies at work in the jail because of a shortened training schedule.
The Sheriff's Office maintains there's no chronic staffing shortage at the jail but that issues surround a growing inmate population and societal challenges such as drug and alcohol addiction and gang violence.
The jail has seen numerous problems in recent years, including inmate deaths
, disputes with the medical contractor
, Armor Correctional Health Services Inc., which has sought not to renew its contract at year's end, assaults on deputies
, and a riot over bad food
served by a contractor, Trinity Services Group.
Asked about all that, Kirby says in an email, "The investigation is not complete so we do not have a comment at this time."