A Pueblo man who was waiting for a ride in a hospital lobby last year died after four security guards put him in a chokehold and restrained him prone on the ground — and now the man’s widow is suing, accusing hospital officials of lying to her and trying to cover up the incident.
Mathew Haskel Jones, 36, was taken by ambulance to Pueblo’s Centura St. Mary-Corwin Hospital in February 2021 for foot pain. But when he arrived, Jones refused treatment and checked himself out of the emergency room against medical advice.
He did not have a ride home and opted to wait in the hospital’s lobby because he was wearing a T-shirt and shorts and temperatures outside were in the teens, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed Wednesday by his widow Dedra Jones.
Mathew Jones appeared agitated and sweaty and was asked to leave the lobby but refused, a police investigation found. Four hospital security guards surrounded him and talked to Jones for about 20 minutes before they attempted to physically push him out of the hospital, surveillance video of the incident shows.
Jones resisted their attempt and the security guards tackled him to the ground, sat on top of him, put him in chokeholds and kept him prone until he passed out, despite the protests of one nurse, who later told police she heard Jones say he couldn’t breathe and that she tried to stop the security guards by warning them that their actions looked “a lot like the George Floyd incident, and we all know how that turned out,” according to the police investigation.
The nurse told police one of the security guards responded that they knew what they were doing, according to a detective’s affidavit.
After Jones passed out, medical personnel performed CPR and re-admitted him to the emergency department, but Jones went into a coma and never regained consciousness. He died eight days later on Feb. 18, 2021.
El Paso County Coroner Leon Kelly ruled Jones’ death a homicide and found Jones died from anoxic brain injury — which occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen — due to physical restraint. But the coroner also found that other factors contributed to his death, including morbid obesity, methamphetamine and probable cocaine intoxication, and an enlarged heart, according to the autopsy report.
The four security guards — Anthony Virant, Anthony Ruff, Drake Castro and Randy Vialpando — were charged with negligent homicide in November 2021, but Pueblo County District Attorney Jeff Chostner dropped the charges in August after a new, unnamed witness explained “nuances in the pathologist report” and Chostner felt there was not enough evidence to secure a conviction, The Pueblo Chieftain reported at the time.
The dismissed criminal case against the four men appears to have since been sealed and court records are no longer publicly available.
“We are going to use the civil justice system to get the justice back that Mathew’s family was denied through the criminal justice system,” said Nick Rowley, an attorney for Dedra Jones.
A spokeswoman for Centura Health, Lindsay Radford, said in an email Wednesday that the hospital had not received a copy of the lawsuit. She offered condolences to Mathew Jones’ family and said she could not comment further because of both patient privacy laws and the pending litigation.
Hospital staff lied to Dedra Jones about what happened to her husband, withheld evidence from Pueblo police and attempted to tamper with witnesses, Rowley alleged in the lawsuit.
“I truly believe this was a big cover-up,” Dedra Jones said in an interview Tuesday.
When she arrived at the hospital on Feb. 10, 2021, she was escorted to a “quiet room” where a hospital employee told her that her husband had been in the lobby “by himself” when he had a heart attack and fell hard on the ground, Dedra Jones said.
“(She said), ‘He got real agitated and he coded, and he hit the ground hard,’” she said.
Dedra Jones didn’t find out until six days later, when she called Pueblo police to look for her husband’s belongings, that he’d been in an altercation with the four security guards.
The nurse who tried to stop the security guards, Betty Webber, told police she was put on a disciplinary plan at work after the incident, and that the hospital accused her of lying about it and violating its policies, according to a 33-page affidavit Pueblo police filed against the security guards. Webber also told police that an attorney for the hospital told her she should not speak to detectives without first going through him, because doing so could violate federal privacy laws.
“She said Centura told everyone not to talk about the incident,” the affidavit reads.
A Pueblo police detective also noticed a printed-out email that was taped to the wall in the hospital’s security office that instructed all security staff to alert the hospital’s top management if any Pueblo police officers inquired about “the events of 2/10/21.”
Additionally, the hospital refused to provide some records about the incident — despite being served a search warrant — for at least eight months, according to the affidavit. It is not clear whether the hospital ever provided the sought-after records to police.
But Rowley said the 34-minute surveillance video that is available shows that Mathew Jones was not aggressive or threatening before he was tackled. In the choppy video, Jones does not appear to physically attack officers at any point, though there are several minutes in which he is not visible in the frame. Some witnesses told police that Jones had pulled a phone out of a wall, which is not seen in the video, and was spitting on the security guards, which is unclear in the video.
The video does show Jones sweating, walking around, conversing with the security guards and leaning on a counter inside the lobby before the struggle with the guards.
“The video shows they lied,” Rowley said. “They lied and they covered this up. And the video completely contradicts everything that they said, everything.”
Dedra Jones said she hopes the lawsuit brings “some type of justice” for her husband’s death.
“Somebody needs to be held accountable,” she said
For medical malpractice in Colorado to occur its when the conduct of medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, physicians’ assistants, dentists, pharmacists, and nursing home staff, falls below the “standard of care,” or the level of care that similarly situated medical professionals are supposed to provide to their patients.
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