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2 former Boulder County deputies sentenced to prison for transport van death

23-year-old Demetrius Shankling died after being transported face down in a van while he was intoxicated
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Posted at 8:13 PM, Nov 04, 2021

BOULDER, Colo. —Two former Boulder County Sheriff’s Office deputies were sentenced to prison time for their involvement in the transport death of 23-year-old Demetrius Shankling.

Adam Lunn was sentenced to three years in prison, and James O’Brien was sentenced to six years.

A jury found both deputies guilty of manslaughter in August.

The case stems from a Sept. 9, 2018 incident where O’Brien and Lunn were called to take Shankling, who was highly intoxicated, to Boulder’s Addiction Recovery Center for a detox. An arrest affidavit showed Shankling’s blood alcohol content was at .352.

The deputies handcuffed Shankling and put him face down in a small compartment in a transport van. Deputies are trained to transport intoxicated subjects in an upright position, with a seat belt on and with constant monitoring by another officer or deputy.

After being transported for 16 minutes, Shankling was found unresponsive.

Nearly a month later on Oct. 6, 2018, he was pronounced dead. An autopsy determined Shankling died due to “positional asphyxia,” which means he was unable to breathe due to how his body was positioned.

During sentencing, Shankling’s grandmother spoke, telling the judge she has little room in her heart for sympathy.

“His death destroyed any dream I had of watching him walk down the aisle to be his bride, to be able to hold his babies and be able to share in his success and in his dreams,” Michael Schiller said. “There is a massive hold in my heart that will never be filled by anyone or anything.”

Lunn’s mother-in-law said his life and his marriage will be forever changed by what happened.

“I also pray and ask you, your honor, to be lenient and merciful to Adam. He’s a good man, and he has a good heart and he works very hard to live his life as a role model for his children,” she said.

In a statement, Sheriff Joe Pelle called what happened a tragedy for everyone involved.

“I’m sure of one thing, this death did not need to occur. I’m also sure these former deputies intended no harm. I am confident we took all the necessary steps for accountability and transparency during this process. We relied on the justice system for a just outcome, and we trust that outcome is the best it can be under a horrible and yet preventable situation. I am deeply saddened for everyone involved.”