Complications of chronic alcohol abuse were determined to be the cause of death for a woman inside the Montezuma County jail last month.
According to the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office, Denver native Dani Miller, 47, was found unresponsive inside a holding cell at 3:39 a.m. on Oct. 24. With a blood alcohol level of .289, Miller had been booked at the jail on two outstanding warrants 15 hours earlier.
“It is apparent that D. Miller suffered from alcoholism, which may have been a factor in her death, but D. Miller’s death was in no part due to a criminal act,” Montezuma County Sheriff detective Adam Alcon wrote in a 15-page report.
In a one-page autopsy report, medical examiner Dr. Robert Kurtzman ruled that Miller died of natural causes, though complications of chronic alcohol abuse were the immediate cause of death.
With a blood alcohol level between .25 and .30, an individual reportedly displays general inertia, loss of motor functions, little response to stimuli, inability to stand or walk, vomiting and incontinence. They may also lose consciousness or fall into a stupor.
According to authorities, at least 16 cell checks, which occurred every half-hour, were conducted while the 140-pound 5-foot-7-inch Miller was incarcerated. Cell checks consisted of jailors peering through jail door windows. Cell doors weren’t opened.
A jailor told investigators that she found Miller unresponsive after she entered the cell to complete the inmate’s booking process. Jailors reported seeing Miller alive at 9 p.m. on Oct. 23 and one additional undisclosed time during subsequent cell checks afterward.
The Journal requested Miller’s autopsy report from the sheriff’s office on Nov. 16, the same day that Kurtzman determined the cause of death. The sheriff’s office didn’t reply to the media request.
Seven days later, The Journal again requested all reports related to Miller’s death from the sheriff’s office. The 15-page investigation report and one-page autopsy report were made available to the public free of charge on Nov. 24.
In the last half of 2013, three other inmates died while in custody at the county jail, including a 47-year-old Cortez man and a 38-year-old Arizona man who were both highly intoxicated and cleared by hospital staff. The third death was an apparent suicide.
The National Commission on Correctional Health Care recommends inmate deaths be reviewed to determine the appropriateness of clinical care, whether policy changes are needed, procedures or practices are warranted, and to identify issues that require further study.
After Miller’s death, Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said that he would work to establish a detox center in Cortez. Reiterating that the jail wasn’t an approved health-care facility with medically trained staff, Nowlin said a local detox center would make the community safer and more viable.