Family of mentally ill inmate says guards laughed and joked as he died


I can see you breathing,” Cheryl Neumeister called to a shackled, mentally ill — and dead — inmate, whose slow-motion death took place in the presence of casually chatting prison personnel, and on video.

Fifteen more minutes dragged by before guards pulled the body of Christopher Lopez, 35, from an intake cell and they realized he had died.

Moments later, a guard called for medical “backup.”

It is the first hint on the nearly six-hour video that anyone witnessing the man’s almost comatose behavior, uncontrollable shaking, grand mal seizures and disturbed breathing realized he was in dire need of medical attention.

The video, taken at San Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo on March 17, 2013, is evidence in a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Denver by Lopez’s mother, Juanita Lopez.

In a release responding to the suit, prison officials said within 10 days of the incident, three employees were terminated and another five were subjected to corrective and/or disciplinary action.

Neumeister, a mental health clinician, was among those fired, according to the suit.

Lopez, a schizophrenic, died of severe hyponatremia, a condition that occurs when sodium levels are too low. “Almost all instances of hyponatremia are treatable if a person receives prompt and adequate medical attention,” the suit said.