County sued for Sullivan’s care

$158,000 hospital bill for man convicted of pointing gun at cops

Keywords: Poll question,

The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office has been slapped with a $158,000 lawsuit by the Denver Health and Hospital Authority for the cost in treating the wounds of Zachary Sullivan, who was shot in March 2011 when he pointed a gun at police officers.

Sullivan was first transported to Southwest Memorial Hospital, but the severity of the wounds resulted in him being sent to the Denver hospital. Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell said the decision to transport Sullivan to Denver was made by medical professionals, not law enforcement personnel.

Spruell told the county commissioners Monday morning that the county’s insurance company refused to pick up the bill because Sullivan was technically not in its custody .

If custody is the issue, Spruell said, the 22nd Judicial District’s Division of Adult Parole, Community Corrections and Use Offender Services is responsible for the bill, about which the sheriff’s office knew nothing until a few weeks ago when the lawsuit was filed. Spruell said Sullivan was under a parole hold related to previous crimes.

Spruell told the commission that all the entities involved in the incident should share in the cost.

County Attorney Bob Slough said that if Cortez police officers were involved in the shooting, the city should have to share in the cost.

Spruell said it is the MCSO’s contention that the county does not owe the money.

“I am in the (opinion) that we do not owe $158,000,” he said. “If we do owe anything, it will not be $158,000.”

Commissioner Gerald Koppenhafer had a different opinion on the bill and the lawsuit, saying if the county sent Sullivan to Denver to be “fixed” the county needs to pay the bill and not try to get out of its obligations.

Commissioner Larrie Rule was surprised the sheriff’s office never received a bill and instead had a lawsuit filed against it, and County Administrator Ashton Harrison said it was true that the Denver Health and Hospital Authority failed to provide a bill to the county before filing a lawsuit.

Spruell added that the hospital may have billed Sullivan and that the man, recently convicted of numerous felonies, signed that he was responsible for the bill, but when he failed to pay, the hospital decided to seek payment from the MCSO. Both the sheriff’s office and Sullivan were named in the suit.

The commissioners speculated that the Denver Health bill might have been sent to Southwest Memorial Hospital instead of to Montezuma County.

The sheriff said the county did pay a $1,400 bill for security while Sullivan recovered from his wounds at the Denver hospital.

Harrison said the county has hired the Colorado Springs law firm Vaughan and DeMuro to respond to the filing. Although the MCSO is the agency being sued, the commissioners will be the ones to decide whether to pay the bill or fight the lawsuit.

But Spruell countered that Sullivan is the person who put the sheriff’s office in this situation and Sullivan is the one who is ultimately responsible for his medical bill.

If deputies hesitate to use deadly force when needed because of medical bills the county might incur, the sheriff said, lives and the lives of others could be endangered.

Reach Michael Maresh at michaelm@cortezjournal.com