April 20, 2017 / 2:13 AM / 2 years ago

Denver sheriff’s officers suspended in black inmate's death

DENVER (Reuters) - Two Denver sheriff’s deputies and a supervisor have been suspended for a period of at least 10 days over the 2015 death of a black jail inmate who suffocated while being restrained during a psychotic episode, city officials said on Wednesday.

Michael Marshall died days after an arrest for trespassing. A year earlier, the city paid $4.6 million to the family of another African-American man who died in custody, sparking anger over the treatment of black men in Denver jails.

“The tragic death of Mr. Marshall and the time it has taken to complete a thorough review of the incident has been difficult for his loved ones and for everyone involved,” Stephanie O’Malley, the city’s executive director of public safety said in a statement on Wednesday. “Discipline is appropriate and has been imposed.”

A multi-agency investigation concluded that deputies Bret Garegnani and Carlos Hernandez and Captain James Johnson violated department policies and procedures in Marshall’s death, O’Malley said.

Johnson and Hernandez were suspended for 10 days and Garegnani for 16 days, all three without pay, and they must undergo further training on how to deal with mentally ill prisoners, according to disciplinary letters sent to the officers.

Johnson, who investigators said took a “lackadaisical” approach as the incident unfolded, was the watch commander on duty that day.

Marshall’s family, in a statement issued through attorney Mari Newman, criticized what it called “plainly inadequate” punishment.

“Mere suspensions of short duration, and imposed on only a few of the many individuals involved, is a shockingly light response,” the family said.

Representatives at the police union could not be reached.

Marshall, a 50-year-old homeless man with a history of mental illness, was arrested in November 2015 for trespassing. Four days later, after refusing to take his schizophrenia medication for two days, he began to behave in what public safety officials said was a manic and erratic manner, ignoring commands from officers.

Despite being handcuffed and shackled, the 5-foot-4, 112-pound man struggled with several deputies.

Marshall choked on his vomit, lapsed into a coma and died nine days later, authorities said.

An autopsy concluded that Marshall died from asphyxiation “while being physically restrained by law enforcement.”

In January 2016, then-District Attorney Mitch Morrissey declined to prosecute any of the officers involved in the incident, saying he could not prove any criminal intent.

Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Peter Cooney

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