Editor’s Note: This video might be disturbing to viewers.
Juanita Lopez gave birth to her son, Christopher Lee Lopez, in the summer of 1977 in Portland, Ore. She could never have imagined the way that he would take his last breath on this earth.
The life and death of Christopher Lopez underscores the tragic reality of a mental health care system in which our prisons are becoming warehouses for people with serious mental illness. Truth-tellers like the Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart are speaking honestly about the crisis they are facing.
But meanwhile families such as the Lopez family are on the frontline of the broken mental health care system, left only to grieve a life lost.
For Juanita, when her husband, Mike, died nine years after Christopher’s birth, the single mother struggled to keep her son out of trouble, but by his early 20s he had landed in jail for offenses including theft.
In 2005, while held in Weld County Jail in Greeley, Co., Christopher was diagnosed with schizophrenia. For years, Christopher experienced severe psychosis, leading to his involuntary commitment at Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, Co., 12 times.
In 2006, in trouble again with the law, this time for trespassing, Christopher ended up in the Colorado Department of Corrections. Bouncing through the system, Christopher arrived at San Carlos Correctional Facility, meant to be a prison with a treatment program for prisoners with mental illness. He was put in solitary confinement, once kicking a guard.
On March 17, 2013, Christopher suffered grand mal seizures while prison staff ignored him, even mocking him.
“What’s going on man,” a staffer asks at one point.
In shocking video capturing the neglect, a prison staffer injected Christopher with the drugs Haldol, prescribed as an anti-psychotic drug, and Cogentin, prescribed for tremors, laughing at the idea of overdosing him. Moments later, he died alone. A coroner’s report said he had low sodium levels, often consistent with an overdose of anti-psychosis drugs.
The Lopez family filed a lawsuit, represented by Denver attorney, David Lane.
This is one charge against a prison employee:
Defendant Neumeister then continued her conversation with Mr. Lopez’s corpse: “Open your eyes.” She then inexplicably said “Thanks” to the deceased Mr. Lopez.
In a local KUSA report, his mother, Juanita, told journalist Chris Vanderveen:
“Even at the humane society, animals aren’t allowed to be treated like that.”