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Pueblo family files civil lawsuit against hospital for death of loved one

KOAA News 5 Southern Colorado
KOAA News 5 Southern Colorado
 2022-11-30
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Outrage and anger Wednesday from the family of a Pueblo man who died at a Colorado Springs hospital back in February of 2021, eight days after he was involved in a violent struggle with security staff at St. Mary Corwin Hospital in Pueblo while waiting to leave the hospital.

The three security guards were initially charged with negligent homicide by Pueblo police in the death of Mathew Haskel Jones, but the Pueblo County District Attorney's office has dismissed the case, citing a lack of medical evidence to support the charge.

Tonight, attorneys for Jones' widow, Dedra Jones, filed a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against the guards and Centura Health, which owns St. Mary Corwin.

As part of a news conference at the Pueblo hospital today, they provided a video surveillance tape, which they claim, supports their lawsuit and the allegations against the four guards and the hospital system.

The incident happened on February 10th of 2021 inside the lobby of the hospital, and this was at the height of the pandemic. The tape that was provided to News5 is unedited but has no audio, so I took the opportunity to view it all and try to extrapolate what I could as it relates to what happened and what may have resulted in the lawsuit. Jason Jordan, the attorney for Dedra Jones said "This was a brutal attack of an innocent man who was just discharged from the hospital."

Mathew Jones is seen in the video, which we have attached to this story, on the left-hand side of the screen, wearing a tee shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. He had been treated for gout and had been discharged and was waiting to leave, with security staff nearby.

I mentioned the pandemic because it could be a key element in why the confrontation and violent struggle took place, but that is only a supposition on my part based on what I saw on the tape, but was not able to hear. From what I observed, the staff asked Jones at least twice to put on a mask in the lobby area, obviously, it was required by anyone who was inside the hospital at the time. Jones appears to refuse to put one on and a lengthy discussion between him and the guards and someone who appears to be a hospital supervisor takes place. The back and forth lasts about twenty minutes, difficult to tell with no audio if it became heated at any point. Nonetheless, at one point, the security guards try to forcibly remove Jones from the lobby.

The guards who take part and are named in the lawsuit are Anthony Ruff, Anthony Virant, Drake Castro, and Randy Vialpondo. The four try to physically remove Jones from the lobby, he puts up a struggle and then falls to the floor where an even more intense struggle takes place. The guards are obviously trying to restrain him based on what I see in the video and at one point I do observe on the tape that one of the guard's hands is on the back of his neck and the guards appear to push his head into the floor. After a struggle of about five minutes or so on the floor, Jones appears to stop pushing back and appears to be unconscious. Medical assistance is brought in and that is where the tape ends. Attorney Jordan at the news conference made a very damning allegation of what he heard in the wake of the struggle, "The attack on Mr. Jones was so brutal that a nurse who witnessed the incident compared it to the murder of George Floyd." Floyd, of course, died in the hands of police officers in Minneapolis after he was being restrained and his head and neck pushed into the pavement to the point of unconsciousness and ultimately death.

Following the struggle at Corwin, Jones was eventually transported to Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs where he died eight days later. Attorney Jordan claims he died of what is called "Anoxic Brain Injury", where the brain is denied oxygen. Jones's widow, Dedra told reporters that doctors and other healthcare providers at Corwin lied to Penrose about what happened to Mathew, saying, "Doctors here at St Mary told physicians at Penrose who were trying to save his life that they feared Matthew was intoxicated and he had collapsed after leaving against his will".

In the lawsuit filed today, the family alleges "reckless disregard" by the security guards in using "chokeholds" and "neck restraints" for an extended period of time, causing his death. Claiming they knew the risk, including death using such techniques to restrain him. They also allege that Centura Health failed to properly train them. And there is more, the lawsuit goes on to allege that Centura "falsified records, destroyed evidence or concealed original records of the incident, misrepresented facts" to police, the family, and other healthcare providers, and "intimidated witnesses".

The family of Mathew Jones is seeking a jury trial along with monetary damages for "emotional pain and suffering" and compensation for lost income with Jones' death, among other claims.

We received a statement from Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner who told us, "Our Office was prepared to go forward with this case. However in our pre-trial preparation of the case, and discussion with the pathologist, we received a revised opinion from our expert witness indicating there were a variety of causes for the death. Essentially, there was not conclusive medical evidence that would prove the defendants caused the death of Mr. Jones. Given that our own expert witness could not testify as to the criminal culpability of the defendants, we had no choice, under state ethical rules, but to dismiss the case. Our initial charging indicated our interest in moving forward on the matter. We are sympathetic to the concerns of the family. But the additional information we received essentially precluded our ability to do so."

We have also reached out to Centura Health regarding the dismissal of the case against the security guards and the filing of this new lawsuit, and are still awaiting a response.
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