Albert Abeyta: Prisoner's coma-inducing latex allergy triggers lawsuit, burning questions
A prisoner's lawsuit against the Colorado Department of Corrections, claiming a latex allergy so severe that he's suffered burns and respiratory problems when touched by glove-wearing guards, appeared to have been resolved last month when DOC officials testified that they no longer use latex in their facilities. But Albert Abeyta says he's still getting burned by his unsympathetic handlers, and the strange case seems to be headed back to federal court.
Abeyta, 44, a sex offender serving a sentence of seven years to life, claims to have experienced some "itchiness" from exposure to latex for some time. His sensitivity developed into an extreme case three years ago, when he was working as a kosher prep cook at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility. According to court records, he began to feel a burning sensation in his wrists, had difficulty breathing, and was diagnosed at the prison infirmary as having "an acute reaction to latex gloves."
That exposure led to treatment at a Pueblo hospital and eventually in the burn unit of the University of Colorado Hospital, where he received morphine and lapsed into a coma. After he got well, Abeyta testified, a nurse practitioner at the prison provided him with a document stating that he was not to be exposed to latex -- but a correctional officer ripped the note from his cell door and destroyed it.
ColoradoPreservation.org The Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility.
Since 2009, Abeyta has spent time in five different prisons, enduring several encounters with latex-wearing officers doing pat-downs or escorting him. Some DOC officials have expressed skepticism of his claims of a severe allergy and accused him of using an inhaler to make odd marks on his skin. But the marks and burns persisted even after his inhaler was taken away from him, and his attorney suspects that some staffers went out of their way to harass Abeyta because he's a sex offender -- and thus on the bottom rung of the prison's social order.
"It seems like every time the staff got used to him and his latex problem, he'd get transferred again," says Boulder attorney Alison Ruttenberg. "It was like they were trying to avoid coming up with a policy for dealing with him."
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