All Photos Courtesy of Jackie Sedley.
On today’s “A Public Affair,” a conversation with the Partridges, a family irrevocably wronged by the criminal justice system.Please note that the interview you are about to hear contains mild-to-moderate descriptions of self-harm and suicide.
Ryan Partridge was arrested on a misdemeanor harassment charge in early 2016. From February to December of that year, Ryan would spend over 200 days as a pretrial detainee at the Boulder County Jail, with stints at Ft. Logan Mental Hospital and the Arapahoe County Jail.
His stay ended on the evening of December 17, 2016, but not because a judge decided his sentence was over.
Rather, it was because Ryan had reached his limit. After three separate stints in solitary confinement, and seven counts of excessive force by jail staff, Ryan felt trapped and couldn’t take it anymore.
He blinded himself with his own fingers.
Neither of Ryan’s parents knew that he had been in solitary confinement. They also did not know jail employees were hurting him. They also did not know that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia while at Ft. Logan.
“Iit was difficult in the spring because I was isolated for over 30 days straight,” Ryan explains. “It was difficult in the winter because I got tased three times in the final two weeks leading up to when I then blinded myself. I was in and out of the restraint chair a few times. And, uh, the final time I was in there for nine-and-a-half hours and that was just the day before I blinded myself. So I feel like that kind of played up the situation for me. Isolation is a scary place. I wasn’t getting the hour out for whatever reason. And, that’s where all the bad things happened to me. I had seven incidents of excessive force there, basically. All the incidents of excessive force were there.”
The day after Ryan gouged out his own eyes, his father Richard Partridge got a call from Jeff Goetz – the Jail’s Division Chief who has been there for over 30 years.
“[Goetz] called me up very nonchalantly and told me Ryan had blinded himself and he was in the jail in Denver and maybe they could save one of his eyes. I was quite upset,” Richard explains. “And I said to him, ‘God’, I said, ‘I have to go upstairs and tell his mother. ’ And he says, ‘That’s okay. I’ll wait.’ It was so nonchalant. I couldn’t believe the lack of caring that Goetz showed me at that moment. Not an ounce of, ‘I’m sorry.’ We’ve never been apologized to by anyone from the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department. But I do see in the paper, they say, ‘We have done nothing wrong.’ You know how despicable that is to me?”
After that, Ryan spent several weeks at the Pueblo Mental Health Hospital. Then, his father was granted permission to pick him up. He was still under the custody of the Boulder County Jail for the misdemeanor charges. They had to return to court from there to get him released – after all the time he did, after he had blinded himself. According to his mother Shelley, Sheriff Joe Pelle said they no longer had the ability to house him. They dropped the charges and let Ryan return home.
In early 2017 – while Ryan was still in the hospital – his parents were contacted by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney David Lane. They spent the next several years fighting for justice.
Their tireless efforts paid off. Earlier this month, on August 9, 2023, Partridge settled a federal civil rights lawsuit against former Sheriff Joe Pelle and Boulder County for a total of $2.55 million.
“The only way [the jail’s] going to stop doing what they’re doing is if it’s a money thing,” says Shelley. “Until they get slammed with enough money, they’re just not going to change their ways.”
The money symbolizes a win for the Partridges – but by no means do they feel fully vindicated.
“I am angry. I am pissed off,” says Richard. “I want a pound of flesh and a big part of my motivation is to get even with the Boulder County Jail, what they did to my son. I still have to get up every morning. He can’t see. He can’t live the life that I wanted for him or that he wanted for himself. That does not change. That, that money doesn’t change a thing.”
The family has also aided with the reform of solitary confinement practices in Colorado. They testified in front of the Senate and House Judiciary, supporting a law that went into effect on July 1 of last year. As a result, local jails with over 400 beds are prohibited from involuntarily placing an individual in restrictive housing if they have a serious mental health disorder or are exhibiting self-harm.
Ryan is now medicated, and living back at home with his parents. He says he is eager to start building a new story for himself that does not solely revolve around his time in jail.
“I hope that we can tell other new tales and do new things, but also it’s, you know, it doesn’t rectify everything,” Ryan explains. “I’m relieved. It turned into more than I ever would have thought…It took a long time, but it had a good, positive outcome. And, uh, I get security, and I get some standard of living, and I’m lucky to be getting out of it at all. This would not happen in a lot of places.”