Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey’s office will not prosecute the sheriff’s deputies who fatally restrained Michael Lee Marshall, a homeless, mentally ill man, at the Denver jail, according to a statement from the D.A.’s office.
“Obviously we’re extraordinarily disappointed but not one bit surprised,” said Marshall’s family’s attorney, Mari Newman, of Killmer, Lane and Newman, who had not received a copy of the District Attorney’s decision until this reporter sent it to her. “Denver has never held its law enforcement accountable and this time is no different.”
Video of the deadly encounter between the deputies and Marshall has been turned over to the family, who will watch it this afternoon. The Department of Public Safety will release it to the public within the next 24 hours.
“Denver today fulfilled its commitment to the Marshall family to view the video,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said in a statement. “This family deserves to know what occurred during this tragic event. I am confident this is the right thing to do, but I also know it makes this incident no less difficult for the family, the sheriff deputies and the community.”
Morrissey said in a statement that he sympathizes with the family and expressed his concern for their loss. “Sadly, this situation is an example of how difficult it is for society as a whole, including deputies in a jail, to handle the complex issues presented by those suffering from severe mental illness,” he said.
“To those calling for criminal charges in order to effect a change regarding use of force tactics or policies, I want to emphasize that criminal charges are appropriately used only to respond to criminal acts that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Absent that certainty of proof, criminal charges are not appropriate and are not justice.”
Morrissey justified his decision not to press charges.
Based on the evidence in this investigation, I conclude that the physical force exerted against Mr. Marshall by the deputy sheriffs was for the lawful purpose of maintaining order in the jail as allowed by Colorado’s statute, and was applied by the deputies as part of their responsibility to provide safety and security. There is no evidence suggesting any force was used for the purpose of harming Mr. Marshall. It should be remembered that this incident began as an attempt to get help for Mr. Marshall who was behaving erratically and inappropriately. The event that required the deputies to physically control him was not of their choosing and their actions were in response to Mr. Marshall’s behavior. Indeed, their efforts to help him continued through the remarkable twenty minutes of CPR.
The Marshall family legal team, from Killmer, Lane and Newman, argues his death is one in a string of many at the hands of law enforcement officers who have walked free after killing on duty.
“It’s really outrageous that D.A. Morrissey is not prosecuting for anything,” said Darold Killmer, another family attorney. “He seems to think it’s a first degree murder or nothing decision … They don’t ever consider prosecuting. They start with the conclusion that they’ll exonerate the officers, and then they work toward that conclusion.
In Mitch Morrissey’s 10 years as Denver’s D.A., he has never prosecuted an on-duty excessive force or murder case against a law enforcement officer. That includes the killing of unarmed 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez, who was shot from the side while she sat in the driver’s seat of a car, and another homeless, mentally ill, street preacher, Marvin Booker, who was also killed while being restrained by sheriff’s deputies.
“The reason they don’t prosecute is this is the way Denver trains their deputies to act … It’s really a system problem and culture problem in Denver’s law enforcement. They will never change unless they’re forced to change, and nobody has forced them to change,” said Killmer.
“The fact that there will be no prosecution is the obvious result when the city is responsible for investigating itself. It’s like the fox watching the chicken coop,” said Newman.
“There was no doubt from the outset of this process what the result of this process will be,” said Killmer. “We knew it. The family knew it. The city knew it. Nothing will be done to rein in law enforcement under this administration.”
“I am not shocked. This is what this D.A. does,” said Pastor Terrance Hughes of the Denver Ministerial Alliance, who has led roughly 300 people on a hunger strike for nearly two weeks, demanding the city hand over to Marshall’s family video recordings of the killing. “It does sadden me. I am sad that we’re living in a state where human lives mean nothing, and there’s no accountability when a human’s life is taken.”
The city has released video of the fatal incident to the Marshall family. “I’m extremely disappointed and upset that the sheriffs didn’t get charged,” Marshall’s niece Natalia Marshall told The Colorado Independent. “My little heart is broken, but I’m not surprised, not even one bit. Mitch Morrissey has never brought charges in any of the shootings. I don’t know why I thought it would be different for my uncle.”
Marshall and her family are told they’ll view three different surveillance tapes at their attorneys’ office this afternoon. The family will have the option to keep copies of the files.
“I’m very anxious and scared of what’s on this video,” she says. “I know we have to watch it — watch my uncle in his last moments. It’s going to be brutal.”
“I don’t know where we go from here, but I believe in God that something good has to come out of it.”
With the release of the videos, the hunger strike that began nearly two weeks ago has come to an end.
The Colorado Independent filed a lawsuit yesterday against the City and County of Denver after the city refused to honor a Colorado Open Records Request for all recordings of the incident.
“The video and audio recordings of the confrontation between sheriff’s deputies and Michael Marshall is objective evidence of what occurred, and the public deserves to see the footage and decide for themselves,” said attorney Elizabeth Wang, who is representing The Independent in the suit.
“I find it interesting that they released this D.A. decision to everybody but the family. Denver’s lack of the compassion for the Marshall family has been consistent and still surprising every time,” said Newman.
Below is a letter from the head of the Department of Public Safety, Stephanie O’Malley, letting the Marshall family know that the officers involved in the attack would not be prosecuted and that the video would be released.
This is an evolving story and will be updated.
Additional reporting from Susan Greene and Laura Bond.
Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Creative Commons, Flickr.