A former medical and behavioral provider at Pitkin County Jail recently filed a motion to dismiss an ex-deputy’s negligence lawsuit over an inmate’s attack. 

An inmate’s attack on a deputy cannot be blamed on a physicians-owned company that provided medical treatment to detainees of Pitkin County Jail, lawyers for Correctional Health Partners argued in a recent court pleading.

Correctional Health Partners is a defendant in a lawsuit filed by a former longtime deputy, who sued the Denver-based company for negligence over an assault that happened Jan. 27, 2021. Turn Key Health Clinics acquired CHP in July 2022 and currently provides behavioral and medical service at the jail.

Plaintiff Deborah Kendrick’s suit was filed in Pitkin County District Court two years after the attack in January; an amended complaint was introduced April 14. The suit also identifies 10 defendants as “John Does” who worked for or were affiliated with CHP at the time of the incident. 

The inmate alleged to have attacked Kendrick was incarcerated in Pitkin County Jail on charges related to assaulting a custodian at Aspen Elementary School in October 2020 by trying to strangle the employee from behind while he was cleaning a water fountain. 

The inmate also was suspected of breaking into two Aspen homes around the time of the Oct. 25, 2020, attack. He was booked into Pitkin County Jail on Oct. 27 after doctors cleared him from a psychiatric hold that is placed on patients when they are deemed an imminent threat to themselves or others. 

Forty days had passed since the inmate received his most recent injection of an anti-psychotic medication —  which was administered behind schedule, the suit said — when Jan. 27, 2021, arrived and Kendrick was working as a detention deputy at the jail. When Kendrick, who was 62 years old at the time, entered the observation cell where the inmate was staying to see if he wanted breakfast, he “sprang up from his mattress and pushed his way out of the cell,” the amended complaint said. “The cell door was open for approximately three to four seconds before (the inmate) forced his way out of the cell. After forcing his way out of the cell, (the inmate) grabbed Ms. Kendrick around the neck with both hands. (The inmate) then quickly shifted his hands, placing one on the back of her head and one under her chin. (The inmate) then violently twisted Ms. Kendrick’s head with his hands in what appeared to be a serious attempt to break Ms. Kendrick’s neck. While Ms. Kendrick fought back against (the inmate’s) attack, two deputies intervened to break his chokehold on her neck. The two deputies were unable to immediately subdue (the inmate) or gain control of him. Ms. Kendrick and another deputy then joined the two deputies in an attempt to subdue (the inmate). Ms. Kendrick and the three other deputies struggled with (the inmate) for over three minutes before they were able to gain sufficient control over him to secure him to a restraint chair.”

Kendrick could not return to work because of physical and mental injuries brought on by the attack, her amended suit said. 

CHP’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, filed April 26, argued that Kendrick’s claims were barred by the Worker’s Compensation Act and offered other reasons for the complaint to be tossed. 

“The primary purpose of the Act is to provide a remedy for job-related injuries, without regard to fault,” said the motion to dismiss, which added that “upon information and belief, (Kendrick) also filed a workers’ compensation claim against Pitkin County, which has settled. This evidence is a clear attempt to seek recovery for the same work-related injury against both Pitkin County and CHP.”

As well, because CHP was contracted by the county and was a third-party that provided treatment to inmates, it “did not as a matter of law owe a legal duty to jail employees,” the motion said. “Instead, (Kendrick) attempts a derivative liability theory, arguing CHP owed a duty of care to (the inmate), therefore, it also owed a duty of care to (Kendrick).”

Kendrick’s argument that CHP’s failure to timely medicate the inmate “with the inference being, if CHP had provided Mr. Gonzalez with this injection earlier, the alleged incident would not have happened. This is pure speculation and insufficient to support a finding of negligence,” the motion to dismiss said.

The dangers of working in a jail facility “are well known,” the motion said, which added: “This is the situation here. Working in a jail can be dangerous; this is a well-known, well-documented, undeniable fact. Potential dangers include, but are not limited to, assaults by violent offenders, injuries resulting from attempting to quell fights between inmates, and riots. For example, in 2011 alone, correctional officers experienced 254 work-related injuries per 10,000 employees due to assaults and violent acts.”

Kendrick was honored with Pitkin County’s Employee of the year in 2017 and worked as a dispatcher from 1982-84 and in the jail from 1988-92, and she was a deputy sheriff from November 2004 to Dec. 18, 2021, according to the lawsuit. 

The Denver office of the law firm Hall & Evans LLC is representing CHP. Filing the suit on behalf of Kendrick are Redstone lawyer William Argeros and Ian Kalmanowitz.

Messages left with the lawyers were not immediately responded to Friday and Kendrick, who lives in Carbondale, is not commenting on the suit.