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Family of Deceased Colorado Prisoner Accepts Settlement for $5.3 Million, New Policies

by Ed Lyon

On November 7, 2015, Michael Marshall, who was mentally ill, was arrested for trespassing and disturbing the peace at a motel in Denver, Colorado. Upon being booked into jail with a $100 bond, he was video recorded pacing in a walkway after refusing to remain seated. He resisted a deputy who grabbed him, causing five more guards to become involved; they held him down in a prone position and, according to a nurse, continued to put pressure on his neck after she told them to stop.

Marshall, 50, was taken to a hospital after choking on his vomit while being restrained. His family learned he had been arrested only after he was hospitalized, where he remained until he died nine days later on November 20, 2015.

Two deputies and a captain were disciplined in connection with Marshall’s death and placed on unpaid suspensions in May 2017. Deputy Bret Garegnani received a 16-day suspension because he “failed to exercise the least amount of force necessary to achieve his legitimate law enforcement or detention related function,” while deputy Carlos Hernandez and captain James Johnson were each suspended for 10 days.

Although Marshall’s death was ruled a homicide by the coroner’s office, in part due to positional asphyxia, no criminal charges were filed.

His family, represented by attorney Mari Newman, filed a notice of intent to sue but then settled the case on October 13, 2017 before commencing litigation. The Denver Health and Hospital Authority paid $650,000. The city and county of Denver paid $4.65 million and agreed to add on-site jail mental health care providers, to require and provide annual in-service training for deputies regarding mentally ill prisoners and use of force, and to provide more effective communication protocols between staff and mentally ill prisoners with notification procedures for their families after arrest, for jail visitation and during hospitalization.

Further, Denver officials agreed to implement a policy to remove all discretion when deputies need to contact mental health care providers. The city and county of Denver must also submit annual reports for the next five years to the attorneys representing Marshall’s family, regarding the progress and status of the policy and procedural changes related to mentally ill prisoners.

On March 19, 2018, the Office of the Independent Monitor (OIM), which provides oversight of the Denver Sheriff Department (DSD), released a 73-page review of Marshall’s death. The report noted that the sheriff’s Internal Affairs Bureau had “attempted to summarily close its investigation, finding no violations of policy, without interviewing the subject deputies, questioning the involved nurses, or obtaining other information necessary to completely and impartially evaluate the use of force that was one of the causes of Mr. Marshall’s death,” according to an OIM press release.

“This incident was a tragedy for Mr. Marshall, his family, and for the public,” stated Independent Monitor Nicholas E. Mitchell. The OIM made eight recommendations for improvements in the sheriff’s department, including placing internal investigations under civilian control and developing a process for analyzing and learning from critical incidents.

Ironically, deputy Garegnani was nominated for the DSD’s “Life Saving Award” for performing CPR on Marshall – while also having contributed to his death.

Over $19 million in claims have been paid by problem-plagued Denver law enforcement agencies over the past three years, including the police and sheriff’s offices. In 2014, the family of mentally-ill prisoner Marvin L. Booker received a $6 million settlement after he was killed by deputies. [See: PLN, Dec. 2011, p.34]. Prisoner Jamal Hunter received $3.25 million after being attacked and beaten by deputies and other prisoners while incarcerated [see: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.1], and Jessica Hernandez’s family accepted a $1 million settlement after the teenager was shot and killed by Denver police. The latter settlement also included unspecified policy changes. 


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