Family of man who died in custody say he asked York County Prison for medical care for days
As Danny Mateo's family members grieve the loss of the man they knew as a hard worker, good provider and loving father and brother, they are grappling with questions about whether he might be alive if he had received medical care sooner.
Mateo, 44, who was raised in York City, died Monday in York Hospital, according to York County Coroner Pam Gay. He was taken there May 1 from York County Prison, where he had been taken on April 21, according to court records.
An autopsy was performed Thursday, Gay said, but the cause and manner of his death remain open, pending further testing. She said there's no indication that a struggle with arresting West Manchester Township police officers April 21 played any part in Mateo's death.
Dulce Simmons of Pottsville said she was listed as her brother's emergency contact in prison records, and that officials there were aware Mateo was recently diagnosed with a hernia related to gastric-bypass surgery he'd undergone 15 years ago.
He was on life support at York Hospital when his heart stopped because his bowel had become necrotic and poisoned his body, according to Simmons.
"He said to me (from the prison) that he was requesting medical care for two or three days, asking for help because his stomach was hurting," she said. "And no one — no one — would help him."
Questions remain: Mateo's girlfriend, Janelle Flinchbaugh, said he told her the same thing.
"Why wasn't that addressed (sooner)? That's the biggest question we all have," Simmons said. "Why did he have to cry in pain for three days?"
He was throwing up frequently and was unable to move his bowels, the women said.
"We're not accusing anyone of anything. We just want to know what happened," Simmons said. "We deserve answers."
Mateo was a star football player at William Penn Senior High School, even recruited by colleges, so he knew many people in York, including people who work in the prison, his family said.
Some of them confirmed for the family that the prison's privately contracted medical staff didn't see Mateo for three days, according to the women.
Flinchbaugh told The York Dispatch she last spoke to Mateo sometime between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. May 1.
"He said that his stomach was hurting really bad ... and that he asked to go to medical and they put him in a holding cell (on April 30)," she said, but he wasn't seen until the next day.
No peace: On May 1, medical staff saw Mateo, who said they did nothing for him and left him in the holding cell, according to Flinchbaugh.
"I don't have peace about how it was handled," she said. "I feel like they could have been more attentive to him, considering (his medical issues)."
Flinchbaugh said she spoke with Mateo only briefly on May 1 because he was vomiting.
"Maybe something could have been done sooner," she said, adding the family needs to know either way.
Mateo had outstanding warrants in York and Dauphin counties, which was why West Manchester Township police officers arrested him after stopping a car in which he was a passenger on Carlisle Road on April 21, court documents state.
Mateo ran from two township officers and was tased three times before being arrested after a struggle, according to police, who said he tried to get into three occupied vehicles while running.
He had another struggle with officers outside York Hospital, where they took him immediately after his arrest to be treated for facial injuries he suffered during the first struggle, according to Simmons.
York Hospital initially wouldn't confirm to family members that Mateo was in the hospital, and prison officials didn't reach out to them until Monday, she said.
York Hospital spokesperson Ryan Coyle said the hospital cannot comment on patients who are prison inmates. Any information about those patients must come from the prison, he said. York County Prison Warden Clair Doll did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
"No one gave us the ability to make decisions for his health," Simmons said, adding she doesn't believe Mateo was ever conscious after being admitted to the hospital.
'Excellent father': Mateo's loved ones say it breaks their hearts that some people will remember him only for his arrest and death in custody.
"He was a football legend at York High," Simmons said, and loved by the literally hundreds of people who have reached out to her family since his death.
Mateo worked hard his whole life. Although he was recruited to play college football, he gave up that dream after their mother became ill, according to Simmons. Their mother died when Mateo was 21, after which he raised Simmons and their other two siblings, she said, including a brother with cerebral palsy.
Mateo has nine children of his own; five of them are still age 13 and younger. Of his adult children, one went to school for business management and is opening her own beauty shop, and another — Danny Jr. — is a standout football player like his father and is studying to be a police officer, according to Simmons.
Both Flinchbaugh and Tiffani Manley, who has four underage children with Mateo, said he made sure there was enough money to properly raise his kids and was a constant positive presence in their lives.
"From the first time I met him, he was always about family," Manley said. "We created so many memories (with the kids) — family vacations, picnics, and us just being at home watching movies together."
Manley said Mateo watched for teachable moments with his children: "He made everything a learning experience, and he was very patient with them. He was an excellent father."
Mateo took along his kids when running errands or working, Manley said. Over the years he owned a clothing store and wheel and tire shop, both in Harrisburg, as well as mattress stores in Lancaster and York Haven, Simmons said. His father, Eddie Ruth, still owns businesses in Harrisburg.
At the time of his death, Mateo owned Trinity Home Improvements and had a real talent for roofing, drywall, renovations — whatever needed to be done, according to his sister.
Back injury: About three years ago, Mateo fell off a ladder while on a job and was prescribed opioids by a doctor for the pain, according to all three women.
The man who had disdained drugs soon found himself addicted, they said.
That's when his legal troubles began, they said, although he never stopped supporting and spending time with his family in spite of his addiction.
"That was his priority — even at the lowest point in his life — that he was providing for his kids no mater what," Manley said. "The day he was arrested he was getting groceries for us. ... He was our strength. He was our rock."
"I would have never thought in all my years that Danny would pick up drugs. Ever," Simmons said, adding he taught her many of the skills she now uses as a small-business owner. "He's always been our role model."
He also was the glue that held his family together, the women said. It was Mateo who organized family celebrations and who kept the family together after their mother died, according to Simmons, who said Mateo was always there to help out loved ones financially and with moral support.
Goodhearted, humble: "That's just who he was," Simmons said. "He had a brilliant mind and his heart was gold. He was always the one who made sure we found our way back to each other."
He was humble, went out of his way to help people and had a sarcastic sense of humor that kept his loved ones laughing, they said.
Mateo tried repeatedly to get off opioids, according to Flinchbaugh.
"It's not like he wasn't trying," she said. "I watched him go through all the phases, and it's horrible."
"Danny made a lot of terrible choices in the end, but he was so much more than that," Simmons said.
Family members have started a Go Fund Me account to raise money for Mateo's funeral and for his children. As of Thursday afternoon, the fund was halfway to its $15,000 goal.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.