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Jail death: 'Undetermined causes'



Susan Grimaldo has no idea why her son is dead.

On Aug. 22, Ricardo Grimaldo was booked into the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center on charges of second-degree burglary, accused of stealing a 40-inch flat-screen television. It was his second run-in with the law last year, after having pled guilty to a misdemeanor theft in March.

He was scheduled to stand trial on the second charge in January. But at roughly 4:40 a.m. on Nov. 4, the jail became aware that Grimaldo was in some form of medical distress. An hour later, the 20-year-old was dead.

His mother says she wasn't contacted until 10 a.m., after an autopsy had begun.

"I was at work when they called. They told me to rush home, and that's when they told me about it. But they wouldn't let me go see him," she says. "They wouldn't let me identify him or anything. We are wondering why they didn't call me and let me go to the hospital. ... They let me go see him the day before we had the services, and then an hour before the services. That's the only time that they let me see him."

Family members have heard stories about Ricardo's final night through people who were in his ward. Ricardo "kept pressing the emergency alarm, but the deputies kept turning it off and ignoring him," says Susan. Deputies finally responded, she was told, because inmates were screaming that Ricardo was in trouble. But by then it was too late.

His older brother, Christopher, dismisses that as hearsay but adds, "We just want the facts. We want to find out what happened to him."

In late January, after 11 weeks, the Grimaldos received a copy of Ricardo's autopsy report. In it, the county coroner states that Grimaldo, 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, was seemingly healthy and died of "undetermined causes." In scant detail, the report suggests the two most likely causes as cardiac arrhythmia or seizure. Grimaldo had no history of seizures, the report notes, nor any sign of head trauma that might explain a sudden onset.

Grimaldo, the report reads, was lying on his upper bunk when he began to have "seizure-like activity," which caused him to roll off and slam onto the concrete floor. There were no wounds noted due to the fall.

Susan Grimaldo says her son was healthy when he went into the jail. He was not on medication and had no preexisting medical conditions. The autopsy noted no illicit drugs or alcohol in his system.

Detention Bureau Chief Paula Presley, who oversees jail operations, says there is an active non-criminal investigation into Grimaldo's death, routine whenever an inmate dies. She says investigators have been in contact with Grimaldo's family.

That's news to the Grimaldos. Susan and Christopher say they have had three brief, contentious interactions with county and jail staff. Christopher also went to the coroner's office to find out when his brother's autopsy would be completed. During that interaction, he says, he was asked if his brother had any medical conditions, and said no.

At no time, he adds, has the family been offered any insight or been contacted by the jail's staff. In fact, he says, when he went to the jail to request Ricardo's medical records, he was told that if he wanted them, he would need to get an attorney.

Which is exactly what the family hopes to do, though the Grimaldos don't have money to pay a retainer. To get more information, they say, they will need to rely on a lawyer who wants to represent them without the promise of payment.

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