Denver Inmate Died from Being Restrained by Deputies, Death Ruled Homicide


A Denver jail inmate choked on his own vomit while being restrained on the floor by six deputies during a psychotic episode, and the coroner has ruled his death was a homicide.

The death of Michael Marshall at the Downtown Detention Center is hauntingly familiar to his family, attorneys and community activists who say the Denver Sheriff Department has not learned its lesson after the 2010 case of Marvin Booker, who also died after being restrained by deputies.


The autopsy report released Friday provides the first public insight into what happened Nov. 11 at the jail, where Marshall, 50, was being held on charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace. His bail was $100.


The autopsy found multiple blunt force injuries and abrasions on Marshall's body, including his face, chest and back. The report also said heart and lung disease contributed to his death.


"We have another grieving family," said attorney Darold Killmer, who represents the Marshalls. "They only now are beginning to receive answers as to what happened to their loved one."


Marshall, who had a history of mental illness and drug abuse, was placed in a prone position, and deputies used wrist and ankle restraints as well as a "spit hood" over his face, the autopsy report said. Marshall went into cardiac arrest and was taken to Denver Health, where he was hospitalized until hisfamily took him off life support Nov. 20.


Six deputies, who have not been identified, have been placed on restricted duty while the case is investigated by the Denver Police Department. Police will take the case to the district attorney, who will decide whether to file criminal charges.


A homicide means someone died at the hands of another person but does not necessarily mean a crime was committed.




Sheriff Patrick Firman has pledged transparency, but little information about what happened has been released by the city.


Firman issued a statement, saying: "This is a tragedy for both the Marshall family and the deputies involved. The numerous city agencies involved, including the Denver Sheriff Department, remain committed to an accountable and thorough investigative process."

Standing in the snow outside the jail, the Marshall family on Friday renewed their demands to see video of the incident. They were surrounded by their attorneys, ministers, community activists and friends.


"I come to you pleading and begging for justice," said his niece, Natalia Marshall. "I'm at a loss for words because all I can imagine is my uncle's suffering."


The autopsy report includes a narrative of the circumstances into Marshall's death.

Marshall became aggressive with another inmate and was separated from others. His agitation worsened, the report said.


"He reportedly was not responding to verbal commands and attempted to exit a doorway in a restricted hallway," the autopsy report said. "His behavior became combative; officers placed him in a prone position for several minutes, during which he vomited."


Marshall, who was 5-foot-4 and weighed 112 pounds, was then held in that position as deputies placed restraints on his wrists and ankles and pulled a "spit mask" over his face, the autopsy report said.


Still, Marshall continued to resist with combative and aggressive behavior. Then he had a heart attack and became unresponsive, the report said.


Deputies called 911, and medical personnel had to suction the vomit from Marshall's airways before they could begin resuscitation.


Marshall suffered brain injury, respiratory failure and pneumonia because of the incident, the report said.


Video cameras inside the jail recorded the incident, but the city has refused to show the footage to the Marshall family. It also has denied The Denver Post's Colorado Open Records Act requests for the video.


The city has said releasing the video would compromise the integrity of the investigation. However, Mari Newman, an attorney for the Marshall family, said many people have seen it, including the deputies involved and other city officials.


Don Sisson, an attorney who represents five of the six deputies in the case, said he was authorized to speak on behalf of only one of his clients. He said he would not oppose the video's release.


"We welcome the disclosure of the video so that all will understand it's a horrible and tragic death but not due to any wrongdoing by any of Denver's deputy sheriffs," Sisson said.


Deputies are charged with maintaining order and discipline within the jails, and when Marshall became agitated and aggressive, the deputies had to act, Sisson said.


"The deputies had no choice but to place him in a prone position on the floor, where Mr. Marshall continued to resist," he said. "At all times, the deputies' actions were reasonable and appropriate, and there's no evidence of excessive force."


But community members who gathered outside the downtown jail with the Marshall family do not see it that way. They expressed outrage over another inmate death and demanded action from Mayor Michael Hancock.


"This jail is becoming hallowed ground because blood continues to be spilled here," said the Rev. Terrence Hughes, a pastor at New Covenant Christian Church.


The city's pledge to reform the sheriff's department has fallen short, said the Rev. Patrick Demmer of the Denver Ministerial Alliance.


"I do not trust this mayor's office," Demmer said.


Killmer's firm represented Booker's family in a federal lawsuit against the city. A jury decided in 2014 that five deputies had used excessive force against the homeless street preacher, and the family received a $6 million settlement. It was the largest payout in an excessive-force case in the city's history.


The deputies had shocked Booker with a Taser, put him in a sleeper hold, used nunchucks and forced him to the ground as they tried to control him in the booking area of the Downtown Detention Center.


Booker's name became a rallying cry for activists who have long criticized what they see as law enforcement's quick decisions to shoot, beat or shock criminal suspects.

Spencer Booker, who lives in Atlanta, said he has been following the Marshall case, and he is not surprised another jail death has happened.


The city has never accepted responsibility for his brother's death, and deputies involved still work at the jail, he said.


"I knew it was inevitable that this would be repeated," Booker said. "Who will be next in Denver, Colorado?"

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