Family of man killed in jail slams Denver for “cover up”

The family of Michael Lee Marshall — a homeless man killed by Denver sheriff’s deputies — says Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration tainted the homicide investigation by showing the videotape of the confrontation to the deputies involved.

The family of the mentally ill homeless man sheriff’s deputies fatally restrained in Denver’s jail says Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration has interfered with the investigation into the homicide.

Michael Marshall’s family also is blasting the Mayor personally – both for continuing, after two months, to conceal the videotape of the incident despite hollow promises of transparency, and for trying to bypass the family’s lawyers.

“The Mayor isn’t representing the people, the community or us. He’s only out to protect his administration and defend their killing of my uncle,” Natalia Marshall told The Colorado Independent Thursday.

Hancock hasn’t offered a response.

Marshall, 50, had been hauled into jail in early November after having been charged with trespassing at a Colfax Avenue motel. His bond was $100.

A paranoid schizophrenic, Marshall had an acute psychotic episode Nov. 11 that led to a confrontation with sheriff’s deputies who placed him in a prone position on the jail floor and used wrist and ankle restraints as well as a spit guard that caused him to choke on his own vomit. He struggled to breathe, then went into cardiac arrest and lost brain function. His family ended his life support in the hospital nine days later.

Denver’s coroner has ruled his death a homicide.

Since the incident, his family has demanded the city turn over videotapes of his confrontation with deputies. Despite its repeated pledges of “transparency,” Hancock’s administration has refused, saying that making the videotapes public would jeopardize the integrity of the homicide investigation.

“This investigation needs to be totally clean. What we want to avoid at all cost is witnesses seeing the videotape and altering their stories because of it,” Patrick Firman, Hancock’s new appointment as sheriff, said last month.

Despite those professed concerns, Marshall’s family says Firman has told them the city has shown the video to the six sheriff’s deputies involved in fatally restraining Marshall.

If anything would taint the investigation, the family and its lawyers say, it’s that.

“If there’s anybody who should not have been allowed to see the video, it’s the deputies whose conduct is being investigated. There is no legitimate justification for withholding the video from the family after two months, but yet showing it to the deputies so they can align their testimony to what the video does or doesn’t show,” said Mari Newman, one of the lawyers representing Marshall’s family.

“This is all part of the cover-up,” she added.

Newman ought to know. She represented the family of Marvin Booker, a homeless street preacher killed in 2010 when sheriff’s deputies fatally restrained him in the jail. Booker’s family won a $6 million federal jury verdict against the city. In Booker’s case, as in Marshall’s, the city for ten months refused to make the videotape public. Jurors found, among other breaches of justice, that city officials lied and covered up facts showing the city’s culpability in Booker’s death.

In an effort to avoid another public relations snafu like the Booker case, the city is publicly touting its “transparency” about the case and what it says are efforts to expedite a resolution in the Marshall investigation.

Every week since Marshall’s death, city Safety Manager Stephanie O’Malley has written nearly identical letters to his family saying the administration “strongly desire(s) closure regarding the incident.”

If that were true, Natalia Marshall says, the city would have released the video by now.

“Their actions don’t back up their words,” said Marshall, who – along with about 200 family friends, clergy members and supporters – is on a hunger strike until the video is released.

Newman, for her part, calls O’Malley’s weekly letters to the family “pablum.”

O’Malley’s office hasn’t responded to inquiries for this story.

In a letter written to the city Thursday, Newman’s law partner and co-counsel, Darold Killmer, excoriated Hancock’s administration for trying to legally intimidate Marshall’s family.

The letter cited an incident at Denver Health Medical Center while Marshall was still on life support in November. As the family tells it, Denver police homicide detective Jamie Castro urged them not to hire legal counsel because in his opinion they did not “need” any legal advice. He assured them he would protect their interests.

As recently as this week, Hancock himself has joined the effort to elbow out the family’s lawyers. Natalia Marshall and her mother say the Mayor has dangled the chance to meet with him and discuss the case personally, but only, Hancock has insisted, without their attorneys present.

Killmer calls the administration’s moves “highly inappropriate.”

“These efforts by influential Denver officials to deprive the Marshall family of the legal assistance that they have clearly indicated they want are serious and indefensible,” he wrote the administration Thursday.

Killmer re-emphasized the family’s desire “to meet with the Mayor if the Mayor has a sincere interest in discussing (and implementing) concrete, positive steps toward holding accountable those that are responsible for Michael Marshall’s death, and toward actual changes in policy and training to ensure that the shameful history of brutality and indifference toward the constitutional rights of people can be ameliorated.”

Wrote Killmer: “If Mayor Hancock is willing to have such a meeting, please advise me at your earliest opportunity, and we can arrange for the family’s attendance, with their legal counsel.”

Dr. Timothy Tyler, pastor at Shorter Community AME Church, decries the city’s decision to show deputies — and not Marshall’s family — the videotape.

“What that says to me is they’re far less concerned about the santity of the investigation, as they say, than with the sanctity of their cover-up.”

Tyler is ripping Hancock for being led more by legal calculations than morality.

“He never acts from his heart. He only acts according to what lawyers think he should do,” said Tyler, who’s fasting in solidarity with the Marshall family. “Mayor Hancock never took responsibility for the death of Marvin Booker and, exactly the same way, he’s not taking responsibility for death of Michael Marshall.”

Tyler’s church will hold a service at 10:00 a.m. Sunday — the day before Martin Luther King Day — pledging solidarity with the Marshall family in its quest for the videotape and its urging of Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey to seek justice in the case.

Photo credit: Kyle Harris


  1. R.I.P Michael Marshall. So many cops are cowards and this is one small and tragic example.

    Best of luck and condolences Marshall family.

    johnny in Lakewood

  2. R.I.P. Michael Marshall.
    Many cops are cowards and in the wrong line of work – as is tragically displayed in this sad case. It is also a testament to the mental health problem in this state and country and why we can’t have police ‘taking care’ of citizens who need proper social and medical attention. The police need to stop this insanity and get back to Serving the Public.

    Best of luck and my condolences Marshall family. I hope you prevail.

    johnny – lakewood

  3. There are many said deaths where a human being lost their life and Colorado covered it up. verbal persuasion goes a long way; regardless of the circumstances of evidence. It is hard to let the world know of a wrong doing and the evidence shows wrong doing, and other misconduct comes into play and the protection of the law won’t have evidence heard in its truth and entirety; when it involves the law. Keep Your head up. Dealing with a wrongful death, at the hands of others who hold the fate of life to be judge, jury, and executioner, and the law turns a blind eye…is the fight to keep Love in your heart as you are Gods vessel. Time just passes…Time never heals…but in this present time you have HOPE…keep the fight…
    From Past to Present…what within the justices of the law has changed?

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