Coconino County jail staff said they were only aware of an inmate's possible infection before the person died on Friday.
Jail Commander Matthew Figueroa explained on Monday that because the inmate declined to answer medical questions and be treated by medical staff, they are unsure what led to the inmate's death.
"That was the only thing reported to me. They speculated that the way the wound looked, it appeared to be infected," Figueroa said.
Authorities are continuing to try to reach the inmate's family before releasing identifying information or the arresting agency. The inmate had been in the custody of the jail since Wednesday. The death has caused the Coconino County Sheriff's Office to undergo a criminal investigation, as authorities wait for autopsy results.
Figueroa said he was not told if the inmate gave a reason for declining to answer medical questions, but said that did not surprise him.
"It's not rare at all," Figueroa said. "Depending on a person's mental state, whether they're under the influence of something or simply refuse to talk to us, they may, outright, just not want to speak to anybody."
The arrestee was first brought before the jail when a law enforcement agency tried to book the arrestee in the Coconino County Sheriff's Office temporary holding facility in Page on Wednesday.
The arrestee declined to answer the jail staff's questions. Detention officers noticed a cut on the person's finger that appeared to be infected and was red, swollen and hot to the touch.
After relaying the information, Flagstaff jail staff refused to accept the arrestee at that time.
When inmates decline medical evaluations, that can cause risks for the staff, other inmates and the individual who is declining the assessment. In order to clear arrestees, staff ask questions ranging from topics like medical ailments, mandatory medicines and potential exposure to COVID-19.
Jail staff then can either call medical staff or on-call medical personnel, or refuse to accept the arrestee into the jail. When staff refuse arrestees, the arresting agency must then transport the arrestee to a local medical facility to be medically cleared to enter the jail.
"If there was something wrong with them, they would need medical care beyond what we can provide the person while in custody," Figueroa said. "That's why we would refuse them, to allow them to be able to go and get treatment that they need."
The person's life is not the jail's responsibility until they accept them into their facility.
After being denied at the holding facility, the arrestee was then taken to the Page hospital's emergency department, where the arrestee refused medical treatment.
The Coconino County jail system eventually accepted the arrestee into the facility after it was clear the arrestee refused to be evaluated and treated.
On Friday, the inmate was being transported to the Flagstaff jail pending further adjudication, but began to have a medical emergency. Jail staff began life-saving measures as they called emergency medical services to transport the inmate to the Flagstaff Medical Center.
At the Flagstaff hospital, the inmate was taken into emergency surgery and came out of surgery at approximately 1 p.m. At 2:11 p.m., detention officers guarding the inmate notified executive jail staff that the inmate had died.
Figueroa said he doesn't know why the person was taken to the Flagstaff Medical Center at this time, but is waiting for the reports and autopsy to be completed to find out more.
"Officers are still doing the reports regarding the investigation and incident itself," Figueroa said. "All we were told was the person was having a medical episode. And at one point, they went unresponsive."
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