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$4.25 Million Settlement Reached in the Case of John Patrick Walter

Updated: Mar 23, 2023


Finally, the courts have reached a settlement for the family of John Patrick Walter to the sum of $4.25 million. Please help us spread this story. The more people who hear about Walter and others who have shared is fate, the sooner our justice system will realize the true dangers of benzo withdrawal and take this situation seriously.


For those who have read my book, you may remember Walter’s story. If not, please read the excerpt from my book below. Please note, this story may be disturbing to some, especially if you have heightened sensitivity to people in distress, particularly those in withdraw. If that is the case, you may want to skip the remainder of this post.


***** EXCERPT from Chapter 7 of Benzo Free *****


There’s a story that I need to share here. It’s a story that happened right here in my home state of Colorado. This is just one of many stories across the U.S., and perhaps around the world, that can and do happen when people addicted to benzos have to confront the justice system.


In April of 2014, John Patrick Walters was arrested on charges of first-degree assault, felony menacing, and reckless endangerment after getting into a fight with an acquaintance. He didn’t have money for bail, so he was held in the Freemont County Jail until his arraignment when he would be formally charged. During his intake, Walter informed the staff that he was on some prescription medications, which included 6 mg of Klonopin, a benzo. He even brought a list of his prescriptions with him.


The U.S. Bureau of Prisons detoxification guide for “chemically dependent inmates” recognizes the dangers of benzodiazepine withdrawal. And yet, Erik Heipt, attorney for Walker’s family, claims that Freemont County had a “blanket policy” of not continuing benzodiazepine prescriptions for people in their jail, therefore, forcing inmates to withdraw cold turkey. This is what happened to Walter. The following description of Walter’s last days is summarized from an extensive interview that Westword had with Heipt.


In just 17 days in lockup, Walter lost 30 pounds. He exhibited delirium and exaggerated dramatic behavior caused by withdrawal psychosis and was often strapped in a restraint chair where he was tased and pepper-sprayed. When he was free of his restraints, he would kick and hurl himself against walls to the point of breaking bones. Other times he was disoriented, rolling on the floor yelling, and even seizing. Instead of receiving treatment for his withdrawal, John Patrick Walter received punishment.


For his final five days, Walter was placed in a holding cell with a large, see-through window for observation. As many as twenty people watched him at various times of the day. Everyone walking through the booking area could see him. While he was there, he didn’t sleep or eat, and he drank very little water. And for most of the time, he was completely naked.


Many corrections officers were concerned and thought his medical providers weren’t doing enough to help him. These complaints went all the way up to the sheriff, but in the end, they would always refer to the medical staff. A medical staff that just watched him deteriorate and never once took him to the hospital.


April 20th, Easter Sunday, Walter was on the floor naked twitching, shaking, and convulsing. That evening he was found dead.


The cause of death was initially released as “undetermined.” It wasn’t until three years later, on April 17, 2017, that Dr. Emily Berry of the El Paso County Coroner’s Office issued a revised finding. The official cause of death: “acute benzodiazepine withdrawal.” Her revised statement was based on newly obtained medical records, eyewitness accounts, and materials furnished by the attorneys for Walter’s estate, who filed suit in March of 2016.

The medical staff who ignored Walter for 17 days worked for a for-profit contractor who was employed to provide medical services to its inmates. According to its contract with Fremont County, the company was paid $500,000 to provide medical services for the year of 2014, which is approximately $42,000 a month. And yet according to records, the company only budgeted $19,000 a month for on-site healthcare services.


The Walter family believes that Fremont County tried to cover up what really happened during those three weeks.

It goes to the core of our allegation that Fremont County engaged in a cover-up. That made it nearly impossible for the (coroner’s office) to determine a cause of death. Now, through what’s been uncovered, they have been able to determine a cause of death, which is what we suspected it was when we first filed this case. — Eric Heipt, Attorney for the Walter’s Estate

I relate this story to you in my book for one reason — to raise awareness. The more people who know about benzodiazepine withdrawal and the dangers of withdrawing cold turkey, the less likely situations like this will happen. We need to educate the public and the medical professionals, so they’re more aware of the dangers.


John Patrick Walter’s death was preventable. If he had more money, he could have paid bail, and he would probably be alive today. If anyone at the jail had insisted he get help at any time over that three-week period, he would probably be alive today. If anyone on that medical staff truly understood benzodiazepine withdrawal, I believe, John Patrick Walter would probably be alive today.


What happened to Walter is inexcusable, and unfortunately, he is just one of many. The number of people who have suffered and even died from benzo complications and withdrawal while incarcerated is unknown. But here are a few examples to drive the message home.


Jesse Jacobs was jailed for 30 days on a DUI conviction in Texas. He died after just six days from Xanax withdrawal. David Stojcevski died 17 days into his 32-day sentence in Michigan for a traffic fine. He lost 50 pounds, hallucinated, and experienced seizures and convulsions. His death was caught on video, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Cuyahoga County, Ohio has passed Sean’s Law that protects people in jail who are on benzos. It’s named after R&B singer Sean Levert, who died in jail after being arrested for failing to pay child support. He arrived at jail with his bottle of Xanax in hand, but the drug was taken away from him, and he never received a single pill. The Cuyahoga County Coroner ruled that withdrawal from Xanax was a contributing factor to his death.


I don’t know about you, but I’m at a loss for words.


***** END OF EXCERPT *****


Thanks for taking the time to read about Walter and others who have faced a similar fate.

Please share it with others so that we can help prevent this from ever happening again.


by D E Foster


References

  1. Benzel, Lance. “$4.25 million settlement reached in Fremont inmate’s death.” The Colorado Springs Gazette. November 26th, 2018. Accessed November 28th, 2018. https://gazette.com/news/million-settlement-reached-in-fremont-inmate-s-death/article_eabf1c54-f1c2-11e8-845a-130ca1262026.html.

  2. Benzel, Lance. “Cause-of-Death Finding Bolsters Cover-Up Claim in Fremont County Jail Inmate’s Death.” The Colorado Springs Gazette. May 14, 2017. Updated May 15, 2017. accessed August 24, 2017. http://gazette.com/cause-of-death-finding-bolsters-cover-up-claim-in-fremont-county-jail-inmates-death/article/1603116.

  3. Board of Cuyahoga County: Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services. HB 84: Sean’s Law Briefing. Accessed April 10, 2018. http://adamhscc.org/en-us/seans-law-briefing.aspx.

  4. Flynn, Meagan. “Jesse Jacobs Died in Lockup Six Days After Galveston County Jailers Cut Off His Meds.” Houston Press. August 6, 2015. April 10, 2018. http://www.houstonpress.com/news/jesse-jacobs-died-in-lockup-six-days-after-galveston-county-jailers-cut-off-his-meds-7646761.

  5. Foster, D E. Benzo Free: The World of Anti-Anxiety Drugs and the Reality of Withdrawal. Erie, Colorado: Denim Mountain Press, 2018. https://easinganxiety.com/book.

  6. Hall, Christina. “U.S. Attorney Says Evidence in David Stojcevski’s Death Doesn’t Support Criminal Civil Rights Violation Charges.” Detroit Free Press. September 19, 2016. accessed April 10, 2018. https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/macomb/2016/09/19/macomb-jail-death-inmate-david-stojcevski/90688274/.

  7. Lopez, German. “David Stojcevski’s Horrifying Death in Jail, Explained.” Vox. Updated September 29, 2015. Accessed April 10, 2018. https://www.vox.com/2015/9/26/9399391/macomb-county-jail-david-stojcevski.

  8. Matott, Sarah. “John Patrick Walter Attorneys: Provider Had ‘Money-Making’ Motive.” Cañon City News. March 6, 2017. Accessed April 11,2018. http://www.canoncitydailyrecord.com/news/canoncity-local-news/ci_30839522/john-patrick-walter-attorneys-provider-had-money-making.

  9. Miller, Donna J. “Sean Levert, Denied Medication, Hallucinated for Hours Before He Died in Jail.” The Plain Dealer. November 11, 2008. Accessed April 10, 2018. http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2008/11/post_15.html.

  10. Roberts, Michael. “‘Atrocity’: The Agonizing, Unnecessary, 18-Day Jail Death of John Patrick Walter.” Westword. January 25, 2017. accessed January 25, 2017. http://www.westword.com/news/atrocity-the-agonizing-unnecessary-18-day-jail-death-of-john-patrick-walter-8688441.

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