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Inmate who gouged eyes out gets $2.5M from Colorado jail

Family says there should be more focus on mental health treatment inside jails.
Inmate who gouged eyes out gets $2.5M from Colorado jail
Posted at 10:27 AM, Aug 11, 2023

A man who gouged his eyes out during a mental health crisis while incarcerated at the Boulder County Jail in Colorado has reached a $2.55 million settlement with the county. 

The incident happened in December 2016.

Inmate Ryan Partridge named then-Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle and 21 others — including administrators of the jail, deputies and sergeants of the jail, and other jail staff — in a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2017, claiming they should have known something like this would happen. 

Partridge's attorneys argued that the jail let his mental health go untreated and that the incident could have been prevented.

According to the lawsuit, Partridge experienced a "deep, severe, schizophrenic psychosis" and had previously harmed himself while incarcerated. He also had a history of refusing to take medication, the lawsuit states. Attorneys claimed the jail "simply left his psychosis untreated."

Partridge and Boulder County reached a settlement, and the county will pay Partridge $2.55 million.

Despite the settlement, Partridge and his family do not believe that justice has been served. 

"This is a form of justice for me, but it's not justice in its essence," Partridge said from his Boulder home, where he lives with his parents.

His father, Richard Partridge, said the money is the only remedy that can be provided. His son's eyesight is something that can never be brought back.

"How much money would you take to be blind the rest of your life?" Richard asked. "It's not about the money."

Partridge's days have changed significantly over the past seven years. He describes his days as more methodical and routine and says it takes more time to complete simple tasks, like making coffee. However, his mental health has improved.

SEE MORE: Behind Bars: Inside the country's largest mental health hospital

"I've pretty much been asymptomatic recently, and I feel like I'm recovering," said Partridge.

Partridge's mother, Shelley Partridge, said every night before she falls asleep, she replays what happened to her son. Now, she hopes to sleep well since a settlement has been reached.

The family said solitary confinement and qualified immunity are issues they want to see addressed, especially when it comes to how mental health is handled within jails.

"Some people probably view it as, that I did it to myself," said Ryan Partridge. "We also were fighting uphill against qualified immunity for a lot of the people in our lawsuit," he said, explaining some of the challenges within their case.

Shelley Partridge said the family moves forward by doing what they have always done.

"We take care of each other," she said. "We're lucky to have Ryan here. There's lots of people, you know, who lose their loved one in this situation."

In a statement, the Boulder County Sheriff's Office said the settlement funds are from the county's insurance. A spokesperson said the department did not believe that any of the staff involved in the incident were at fault or violated the law.

The sheriff's office said it continues to "explore and implement methods" to better help inmates with mental health challenges.

"The Sheriff does not believe any of the staff involved in the incident were at fault or violated the law. Nonetheless, it is our hope that the settlement will provide some closure for Mr. Partridge, his family, and the Sheriff’s Office employees who were impacted by the tragic events in which Mr. Partridge harmed himself during a mental health crisis he experienced in the jail," the statement read. "Boulder County and the Sheriff’s Office continue to explore and implement methods to better assist mentally ill inmates in the face of persistent, lengthy wait times at the state hospital."

Partridge's mother said the statement from the sheriff's office is "the same every time."

Scripps News asked the sheriff's office about its policies regarding solitary confinement. A spokesperson said the jail does have "some inmates in single, non-shared, cells with limited out-of-cell time."

Those with the jail call the practice administrative segregation or restrictive housing. They said it is reviewed periodically to ensure it is in line with best practices or any changes in the law. The policy surrounding restrictive housing was last updated in June.

This story was originally published by Colette Bordelon at Scripps News Denver.

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