Family of woman who died in Denver jail in 2006 speak out

DENVER - The family of Emily Rice is speaking out about Denver's jail abuse cases. 24-year-old Emily Rice died inside the Denver Jail in 2006. Her family fought for changes in the jail, known as Emily's Protocols. Now, the family is questioning whether those protocols were followed and if they could have prevented what happened to Jamal Hunter five years later.

"It's a kick in the stomach as far as what was fought for, for Emily," said Emily's Aunt, Diana Helstrom.

Rice died in the Denver jail on Feb. 19, 2006, after being released from the hospital with massive internal injuries that went undetected and untreated. Her cries for help were ignored by deputies inside the jail. Rice was booked in the jail for a DUI.

As a result of Emily's death, her family fought hard for changes and reforms in the Denver jail to prevent another tragedy from occurring. Those changes were known as "Emily's Protocols." A list of nearly two dozen new requirements jail staff were supposed to follow when dealing with inmates. The changes included an electronic tracking system to ensure deputies properly perform their rounds, continuous recording of the jail's surveillance cameras and monitoring of those recordings by jail staff.

After learning about what happened to Jamal Hunter inside that same jail, Emily's Aunt said, "It feels like they don't learn from past mistakes, where does it stop."

During the exclusive interview with 7NEWS Reporter Jennifer Kovaleski, she went on to say, "The reason those protocols were put in place is so that those things may not ever happen again, like what happened to Emily."

Helstrom is talking about jail video from several days before Hunter was attacked by deputies inside his jail cell on July 31, 2011. It's video from July 18, 2011 showing a deputy performing his rounds where Emily's case and Jamal Hunter's come together.  

It shows what appears to be the deputy using his wand to quickly perform his rounds in the Denver Jail. Inside cell 103 is inmate Jamal Hunter screaming for help while other inmates brutally attacked him. The video also appears to show the deputy did not properly look inside each cell.

Hunter's lawsuit, which is in the process of being settled for $3.25 million - pending final approval from City Council, has raised questions about whether "Emily's Protocols" were ever even followed.

"It's sickening, we feel that if the things were put in place that were fought for, Emily's protocols, that those things may not have happened to Jamal Hunter, here in the Denver Jail," explained Helstrom.

According to lawsuit, "Deputies should visually observe the inmates and talk to the inmates during rounds. Deputies are expected to go into every cell during a round, because not everything can always be seen from the window, including the shower and whether an inmate lying down is breathing." 

The video also appears to support the allegations in Hunter's lawsuit, claiming deputies "Failure to conduct a proper round … seriously jeopardized Mr. Hunter's safety."

"Jamal also cried for help for a very long time and that went unanswered," said Helstrom.

Emily Rice's family won a $7 million settlement from the City and Denver Health in 2008 but, for the family, "Emily's Protocols" were more important than the money.

"We're finding that out, eight years after Emily's death, it's still not over," further explained Helstrom.

Now taxpayers are again writing another multi-million dollar check, this time to Jamal Hunter, for another failure inside the Denver Jail.

"I want an answer; the family wants an answer as to why they weren't followed and honored like they promised they would," said Helstrom.

7NEWS reached out the City of Denver to find out if Emily's Protocols were, in fact, in place at the time of Hunter's attack. The City's Attorney office telling us it will not speak on specifics of the Hunter case until the $3.25 million settlement is finalized by City Council next week.

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