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Father of inmate says he raised red flags to jail personnel about his son’s mental state

Unheeded warning

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On July 9, James Bailey was arrested and booked into the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center. The next day, his father told jail staff his son was mentally ill and could pose a danger to others.

“I took him the meds he was supposed to be on,” Frank Bailey tells the Independent in an interview, “and they told me at the jail they could not give him those meds. They said they would be giving him their own meds.”

He also told jail staff his son “couldn’t be around other people, because when he gets upset, you can’t control my son. I went in the day after he was arrested and told them that my son can go from zero to 1,000 in 5 seconds.”

On Nov. 20, Bailey, 31, assaulted Deputies Stuart Scott and Peter Brienza in the jail after rambling on about going to King Soopers. It took several deputies to subdue Bailey, and Scott and Brienza were treated at a hospital — photos show Brienza had a severe eye injury. The two did not return to duty until Nov. 30.

That doesn’t surprise Bailey’s father, who describes his son as a former mixed martial arts fighter with a brain injury. James, Frank says, has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, spent time at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo and can be “totally uncontrollable.”



“I think he should have been in a high security area ... because he’s lethal,” he says of his son. “People shoot people. People stab people. My son uses his hands.”

Yet, James was housed in a general population ward, rather than one reserved for those with mental issues.

The Bailey case raises questions about how inmates are classified in El Paso County’s jail, and whether integrating inmates with mental issues into general wards puts jailers at undue risk.

Sheriff Bill Elder didn’t comment to the Indy about the Bailey case, but has said 60 percent of inmates suffer from some type of mental illness, a statistic repeated to the Indy by spokesperson Natalie Sosa via email.

Sosa says the percentage could be even higher, because “those with mental health issues may not alert us to their particular condition,” which is only later discovered after an inmate experiences a mental health episode while in the jail.



But according to data provided by Sosa, the mental wards were far from filled on Nov. 20, the day of the attack.
James Bailey is a former MMA fighter. - COURTESY FRANK BAILEY
  • Courtesy Frank Bailey
  • James Bailey is a former MMA fighter.
James Bailey has always been high strung, his father says, but after he flirted for a time with MMA fighting, he seemed to lose touch with reality and became short-tempered, leading Frank to suspect there’s “something wrong with his brain.”

Though at 5 feet, 10 inches and 145 pounds he was never an MMA star, James Bailey earned a black belt in karate, learned taekwondo and “carried boxing gloves in the back of his car,” his father says.

James has worked construction, attended college and has a child. He has been arrested in the last decade on charges that include assault, possession of a controlled substance, driving while ability impaired, reckless driving and resisting arrest. He’s faced charges in El Paso, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties, records show.

He’s also been in court on child custody matters, and the mother of his child obtained a permanent protective order against him in 2012.

After a stay in the Douglas County jail, he was sent to the Mental Health Institute in 2015, his father says, where he spent nearly a year. After his release, he wound up at Cedar Springs Hospital, a local mental health facility, for an evaluation after which he called his dad from a homeless shelter in June 2017. Frank took him in.

“Many, many times I’ve had the police at my house, [because] I couldn’t control him,” Frank Bailey says. In one instance, police responded with a crisis team that included a psychologist, who ran through a series of questions about the day of the week and who the president is. “They told me, ‘We can see he’s not in the real world,’” Frank Bailey says. But his son remained in his home.

James refuses to take his meds at times, Frank reports, making his behavior even more unpredictable. Although his son sought counseling from local provider AspenPointe for a time, he stopped going, Frank says; he’s also skipped meetings with his probation officers.

On July 9, after his father dropped him off downtown to meet with a probation officer, James Bailey wound up at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central where he was arrested on suspicion of sexual contact without consent and felony menacing.

According to the arrest affidavit, Bailey thought he recognized a woman as a former classmate in a waiting area and sat next to her; he also touched her arm, rubbed her thigh, asked her to go to the restroom with him, tried to kiss her and grabbed her buttocks.

The woman told police she didn’t know Bailey.

“While speaking with Mr. Bailey,” the police officer wrote, “he did not make sense, could not complete a thought, and was hard to understand.” Asked if he had taken drugs that day, Bailey told the officer he had used meth and steroids.

Bailey was jailed and when he didn’t come home that night, his father began making calls to find him. The next day, Frank went to the jail to deliver his son’s meds and warn the staff.

Elder’s contention that the jail is overrun with mentally ill inmates is generally supported by a Bureau of Justice Statistics study released in 2017 that showed, based on the BJS’ 2011-12 National Inmate Survey data from across the country, that 26 percent of local jail inmates suffered from “serious psychological distress.” It also reported 68 percent of female inmates and 41 percent of male inmates said they’d been told by a mental health professional they had a mental health disorder.

The jail has been crowded for some time. With a maximum capacity of 1,837 beds, it reached a peak on Aug. 20 with 1,829 inmates.
Sheriff’s officials claim most inmates have mental issues. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • Sheriff’s officials claim most inmates have mental issues.
But the National Institute of Corrections recommends a facility be only 60 percent filled to accommodate classification/segregation issues. Following that formula, the jail should max out at 1,102 inmates.

While the jail held 1,574 inmates on Nov. 20, when Scott and Brienza were attacked, it had no shortage of beds in its three mental health wards.

Those wards, Sosa says, have 189 beds, but held only 70 inmates on Nov. 20. The jail also has 206 “transitional beds,” a step between mental health and general population; 49 were in use on Nov. 20.

That means 119 inmates occupied mental health quarters in the jail, or 7.5 percent of the inmate count on Nov. 20, far from the 60 percent that both Elder and Sosa said have a mental illness.

The Sheriff’s Office has dismissed the idea that the jail being short five deputies on Nov. 20 played a role in the attack — one of 44 attacks against deputies in the last two years.

The office refused to answer questions as to why Bailey, who a source familiar with jail operations says was known by jailers as a mental health risk, was housed in general population.
Bailey is a former MMA fighter who tangled with Deputy Peter Brienza
  • Bailey is a former MMA fighter who tangled with Deputy Peter Brienza

“This is a classification decision as well as a security issue and we will not elaborate,” Sosa says, repeating that sentence when asked about procedures used to determine an inmate’s violent tendencies when he/she is booked into jail.

Asked how the jail handles dispensing drugs to mentally ill inmates, Sosa referred the Indy to the jail’s medical contractor, Armor Correctional Health Services of Miami, Florida.

Armor’s COO Ken Palombo tells the Indy that drugs aren’t accepted from outsiders, because Armor can’t verify what they actually are. But he adds inmates “never go without” medications that are prescribed by Armor’s psychiatrist after an evaluation during intake screening. Armor recommends to jailers what unit inmates should be housed in, but the Sheriff’s Office makes the final decision, he says.

“We definitely want to make sure we give the client [Sheriff’s Office] guidance so they can keep folks safe,” he says, declining to discuss the Bailey case due to privacy constraints.

The county put Armor on notice in 2017 for contract noncompliance, including falling short on inmate health assessments, after the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, an accreditation agency, placed the jail on probation in 2017, citing inmate medical care. Accreditation was reinstated in April 2018.

The jail won accreditation from another agency, the American Correctional Association, last fall. ACA assessments review medical services, classification of inmates, use of segregation, crowding and incidents of violence, according to its website.

Neither the ACA or the NCCHC responded to emails or phone calls.
In Elder’s “Blueprint for Our Next Four Years,” sent to personnel on the day Brienza and Scott were attacked, he wrote, “It is imperative that we work with the courts, and mental health and human services partners to find and implement options which will address the burgeoning jail population and an increasing number of jail inmates who have a mental health diagnoses.”

After the Nov. 20 attack, Bailey was charged with assault on a peace officer and, his father says, has since been transferred to the Mental Health Institute. Neither a District Court spokesperson nor the Sheriff’s Office could confirm his admission, citing privacy laws.

Looking back, Frank Bailey says he’s troubled by what he calls “a broken system.” He attended his son’s court hearings and pleaded via letters to judges in Douglas and El Paso counties to order mental health treatment for James, not prosecute him for crimes. He never heard back. (An El Paso County District Court spokesperson says judges don’t respond to letters from non-parties to the case.)

“I love my son. I’ve been crying for help for years now,” Frank Bailey says. “It’s like they were waiting for him to kill somebody, or somebody to kill him.”

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