Denver agrees to $4.6 million settlement with family of mentally-ill inmate who died in jail custody

Settlement also includes DSD training reforms
Posted at 11:32 AM, Nov 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-02 01:38:03-04

DENVER – The family of Michael Marshall, a Denver jail inmate who died while in custody in 2015, will get $4.65 million from the city of Denver if the city council approves the settlement on November 13.

Also part of the settlement, which was announced Wednesday morning, are a series of policy and training procedure changes the sheriff’s department will have to implement to increase mental health services and training over the next several years.

Watch as Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson announces the settlement:

Michael Marshall’s death

Marshall, 50, was in the Denver jail on a $100 bond after an arrest on trespassing and disturbing the peace charges.

"He was looking for his bible," said Natalia Marshall, Michael's niece. "That's how this started."

Natalia told Denver7 that her uncle, who suffers from schizophrenia, became agitated when he couldn't find his bible.  He called police for help.

"Instead of taking him somewhere to get help, they took him to jail," she said. "My uncle was not a criminal.  I need that to be known."

Michael Marshall was “behaving in a manic and erratic matter” while in custody two days after his Nov. 7, 2015 arrest, according to jail medical personnel.

Family members allege that he was not given his necessary medication during his time in jail.

Two days later, Marshall, who weighed approximately 110 pounds at the time, was contacted by jail deputies after he “aggressively approached” another inmate and the two got into a scuffle.

Marshall was handcuffed and shackled as he struggled with five deputies, and became unresponsive and stopped breathing during the struggle. He was on the ground for 13 minutes before a jail nurse was called to try and get Marshall breathing.

The accord of the struggle says that the nurse told the deputies not to put any force on his head and neck area, though the nurse said the deputies indeed were putting pressure on Marshall’s neck and that they told her Marshall “was resisting.”

Nurses struggled to clear vomit from Marshall’s airway, and his heart stopped beating. Eventually, he was revived and transported to Denver Health Medical Center, where he lay in a coma for nine days before being taken off life support and dying on Nov. 20, 2015.

The coroner’s office’s report showed Marshall died from “positional asphyxia to include aspiration pneumonia,” meaning vomit in his airways and the manner in which he was restrained potentially contributed to his asphyxiation. The coroner added that chronic heart and lung diseases were contributing factors. His death was ruled a homicide.

Former Denver DA Mitch Morrissey ruled that none of the deputies involved in Marshall’s death would face criminal charges, but the sheriff’s department’s Conduct Review Office’s investigation led to seven deputies receiving contemplation of discipline letters.

But just three of the deputies, including a captain, received unpaid suspensions for his death. Marshall’s family said when video of the jail incident was released that it was “unbelievable” no charges were filed against the deputies and said it was “obvious” Marshall was murdered.

The family filed a notice of claim to sue the city and Denver Health last May.

Marshall’s family to receive $4.6 settlement, DSD to make changes

Under the settlement agreement, the city of Denver will pay $4.65 million to Marshall’s family, which the city council will have to review and approve later this month.

But the settlement agreement also comes with a series of new provisions, called “The Marshall Rights,” according to the family’s attorneys.

In accordance with the settlement, the sheriff’s department will also have to put in place a series of changes.

First, the city will add two more full-time on-site mental health providers—one at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center (the City Jail) and another at the Smith road Facility (the County Jail) —who will be nurses or licensed clinical social workers trained in dealing with people in mental crisis.

The Denver Sheriff Department, whose deputies run the jail, will also have annual training for all deputies regarding mental illness, and another annual in-service training with a focus on use of force and de-escalation.

By next March, also in accordance with the settlement, the sheriff’s department will have to put together a new protocol by which immediate family members could visit an inmate if they suffer a serious or critical injury while in custody. It will also have to revise its mental health policies to ensure deputies are contacting mental health professionals “as soon as possible” when inmates are in crisis.

The agreement also mandates that the city attorney’s office give periodic reports on the progress of the “Marshall Plan” starting next December through the end of 2023.

"If there would have been this type of mental health expertise at the jail the night that Michael was here, he could very well be alive today," said Darold Kilmer, the Marshall family's attorney.

“After extensive evaluation of the facts and the possible outcomes of a costly trial, we made the difficult decision to propose a multifaceted settlement,” said City Attorney Kristin Bronson. “Mr. Marshall’s death has had a significant impact on his family, the community and the Denver Sheriff Department, including the involved deputies. We hope the settlement we’ve proposed to City Council will foster an environment of collective healing, as well as bolster the city’s ongoing efforts in its jails to accommodate inmates who suffer from mental health issues.”

The city has paid out more than $14 million over the past three years to settle claims involving the police and sheriff’s departments, according to the Denver Post, which include $1 million to Jessica Hernandez’s family and approximately $6 million to Marvin Booker’s family.

“We are very satisfied with this settlement. The family is very glad that Denver has agreed to provide mental health treatment in the jails,” said Rodney Marshall, Michael’s brother. “If Michael could have been treated as a man in medical need, instead of like a criminal who was disobeying orders, he would still be alive today.”

Natalia Marshall, who works in mental health, told Denver7 that it's all about communication.

"It about approach," she said, "how you approach the situation.  How you approach the individual, especially if they're feeling threatened."

"If someone had been in the police car with (mental health) training, when they approached the motel, my uncle might not have even been arrested," she said.