A settlement in the 2015 death of an inmate at the hands of deputies in a Denver jail will include a multimillion-dollar payout to the man’s family and changes in how Denver Sheriff Department deputies treat mentally ill inmates.
The settlement, which includes $4.6 million for the family of Michael Marshall, was announced Wednesday. It goes to the City Council for approval on Nov. 13, according to the Denver Post.
Marshall, 50, battled chronic psychotic episodes and often heard voices belonging to his deceased mother, Jesus and Elvis Presley.
On Nov. 7, 2015, he was arrested on trespassing and disturbing-the-peace charges after he went to a Denver motel looking for his Bible. He was jailed on a $100 bond, and his family did not find out until after he was hospitalized for aspirating on his own vomit while sheriff’s deputies restrained him during a psychotic episode.
He remained comatose until Nov. 20, when his family chose to remove him from life support.
Marshall’s niece Natalia Marshall has become the family spokeswoman. She told the Post that the family is relieved to have a settlement because it avoids a lengthy trial and brings to an end their appearances before the media speaking out about the injustice.
“I am thankful for the ‘Michael Marshall rights,’” she said, referring to the changes outlined in the settlement. “Unfortunately, it did not save his life. I’m hoping that the Michael Marshall rights really do save other people’s lives.”
The settlement calls for the city and sheriff’s department to change how they staff and train deputies to interact with mentally ill patients and their families.
City Attorney Kristin Bronson said that two on-site mental-health workers will be hired Jan. 1 to be available around-the-clock at both the detention center and the jail.
The sheriff’s department would also require all deputies to go through annual in-service training on mental illness in jails. There would also be an annual training to specifically address how deputies handle inmates with mental illness and when and how they decide to use force on them.
In addition, there will be a requirement that deputies contact mental-health professionals as soon as they realize an inmate is having a mental-health crisis. The department will also begin reporting on the progress it makes in training its deputies through the year 2023.
“If there would have been this type of mental-health expertise at the jail the night that Michael Marshall was here, he very well could be alive today,” said attorney Darold Killmer. “The number of lives that this measure alone will save in the future is uncountable, but it’s certain to make an impact.”
A video from the jail showed Marshall pacing in a pod while holding a folded blanket in his arms. When deputies placed him in an isolated, secured walkway, he continued to pace and knocked over a cart. When he ignored deputies’ orders to stay seated, the situation escalated.
One deputy grabbed Marshall, and when he resisted, five other deputies piled on top of him, trying to get him under control.
After the incident, three sheriff’s deputies—including one watch commander—were suspended without pay.
The money to pay the Marshall settlement, which, according to the report, is among the highest payouts in recent years for a deputy- or police-excessive-force case, will come out of a contingency fund that has been set aside for such unexpected financial payments.
“There’s some years where you have settlements that are higher dollar and those years where we have very low dollars in settlements,” Bronson said. “It varies. There isn’t necessarily a trend we’ve seen at all in the last few years. What I will say is that while this is a sizable settlement, this was a big case for the city and county of Denver and we did a lot of work and research to analyze the facts around the case.
“We never take these decisions lightly,” Bronson added. “We know taxpayer dollars are at stake. We also know there’s a risk in proceeding.”
Read more at the Denver Post.