Littwin: Michael Marshall didn’t have to die

Denver sheriff’s staff restrained Michael Lee Marshall and put a spit guard on his mouth. He choked on his own vomit, lost consciousness and died nine days later. Nobody was charged in his death.

Everything, sadly, went just as expected. Nobody was charged in the jailhouse death of Michael Lee Marshall, a mentally ill man arrested for trespassing and held on a $100 bond. In Mitch Morrissey’s tenure as Denver DA, no one ever gets charged in these cases. It’s the surest bet in town.

And no less surprising, when the video was finally released to the family, the story it told offered up many more questions than answers.

The biggest question, of course, is this: Why did Michael Lee Marshall have to die?

The easy answer is that he didn’t have to die, and, given that he died anyway, that something, after all this time, is still terribly wrong with the city jail culture.

Other questions: How many failures, how many recorded beatings, how many fired-but-reinstated deputies, how many deaths, how many refused to charge before something dramatic does change?

And there’s this: When will Mayor Michael Hancock get out in front of this issue instead of always — and this time the line actually works — leading from behind?

If you watch the video, there’s nothing in it particularly violent, except for the ultimate violence that is death. After an autopsy, the Denver medical examiner called Marshall’s death a homicide,  and what is striking, and awful, about the video is how many people watched Marshall slowly die and seemed as if they hadn’t noticed.

Was it negligence, lack of training, jailhouse culture?

Marshall, we’re told, had been acting erratically. He was a schizophrenic who reportedly had refused to take his meds. You can ask if there’s not a better, safer way to treat a schizophrenic who was “ranting” after his arrest for trespassing than to put him in a lockup — even in a special lockup — but don’t expect a good answer. The intersection of mental health and criminal justice is an oft-raised issue — but not one that anyone is doing much about.

Marshall was taken to a hallway where he approached a deputy, who shoved him back, and Marshall fell. At which time three deputies, then four, eventually five, fell onto him to restrain him. Marshall didn’t seem to be putting up any kind of fight, but it’s not clear what constitutes resistance. It’s even less clear why deputies didn’t worry that they might be endangering Marshall. What is clear, though, is that Marshall was an ill, frail, undernourished-looking prisoner being restrained by a number of well-nourished deputies.

Finally, they put a “spit cloth” on Marshall and moved him to a restraining chair. Marshall looks notably limp at that point, even as they strapped him in. Why didn’t anyone notice that? And in a few minutes, they’re pulling off the straps, the medical people are hard at work, and it’s clear something is very wrong. They’re shown wiping vomit from Marshall’s mouth — the same vomit he had apparently choked on. He was taken to Denver Health, where nine days later his family gave up on life support and Marshall, the homeless, schizophrenic trespasser in jail on a $100 bond, was officially dead.

Because this is not a new story and because Mayor Hancock can never seem to get ahead of the old story and because black lives matter is more than a slogan, people demanded answers, which they would get, but not good ones.

Black Lives Matter activists interrupted the Martin Luther King Day Marade to demand justice. It was a movement that, I’m guessing, King would have embraced. There were speeches and, finally, action. But what kind of action?

Black pastors had already met with Hancock to demand the release of the video, particularly given the long delay in releasing the Marvin Booker video and the fallout over the coverup before the release in Chicago of a video showing police shooting Laquan McDonald. At the meeting, Hancock apparently told the pastors that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was a friend and that “I feel for Mayor Emanuel.”

Cultures can be difficult to change, jailhouse culture not the least among them. But why hasn’t Hancock taken the lead here?

And is there anyone else in America who feels the need to express his sympathy for Rahm Emanuel?

It was a year ago when the jury came back with $4.65 million in damages in the Marvin Booker death, in which, of course, no deputies were charged. The city ended up paying $6 million. The payment, one of several large judgments against the city in similar cases, was more than just money that the city could have put to some use. It was a demand that something must be done and quickly.

And then there was the death of Michael Lee Marshall. I don’t know if the deputies should have been charged, only that they never are. But it was obvious from watching the video that a lot of big men pinned a frail man to the floor who seemed to present no danger to anyone and that he never recovered. You can be outraged. You can be saddened. You can get serious about making sure it doesn’t happen again.


  1. “Black pastors had already met with (Denver Mayor Michael) Hancock to demand the release of the video, particularly given the long delay in releasing the Marvin Booker video and the fallout over the coverup before the release in Chicago of a video showing police shooting Laquan McDonald. At the meeting, Hancock apparently told the pastors that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was a friend and that “I feel for Mayor Emanuel.”

    And is there anyone else in America who feels the need to express his sympathy for Rahm Emanuel?”

    Mr. Littwin has never seen a white cop/black victim story that didn’t make him drool. Never.

    Yet, until now, he has never mentioned Laquan McDonald or written about the circumstances surrounding his death. Never.

    This from the New York Times:

    “A dashboard camera video of Laquan McDonald, 17, who was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer on Oct. 20, 2014, was released more than a year after the shooting.”

    So, why did Mr. Littwin completely ignore the death of Laquan McDonald?

    Why didn’t this incident generate as much intense outrage and column space from Mr. Littwin as the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner or Freddie Gray?

    Why did he devote less than one sentence to this human tragedy which also involved a coverup by Chicago’s mayor?

    Only Mr. Littwin can answer those questions but given his predilection for ignoring stories that contradict his narrative I’d say all three questions have the same answer: politics.

    It would be extremely difficult—but not impossible—for Mr. Littwin to write about Laquan’s death without discussing the role played by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in blocking the release of the dashboard camera video for over a year. Emanuel is not only a Democrat—a fact conveniently ignored by Mr. Littwin—but also President Obama’s former chief of staff.

    This from a New York Times editorial:

    “But the timing (of the release of the dashboard camera video), in late 2014, was not good.

    Then up for re-election, the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, was looking ahead to a contested election on Feb. 24, 2015, which would ultimately result in a runoff election on April 7. In Ferguson, Mo., a grand jury was hearing testimony on the police shooting of Michael Brown. The video of Eric Garner being choked to death during an arrest in New York had gone viral. The Black Lives Matter movement was gaining momentum across the country.

    The video of a police shooting like this in Chicago could have buried Mr. Emanuel’s chances for re-election. And it would likely have ended the career of the police superintendent, Garry F. McCarthy.”

    But there was another equally troubling problem facing Mr. Littwin: When Adams County state Rep. JoAnn Windholz decided that Planned Parenthood was the “real culprit” in the deadly Colorado Springs attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic Mr. Littwin said he’d “understand if Adams County voters sent someone like Windholz out of office.”

    So if Mr. Littwin favored removing a Republican from office simply for expressing an unpopular point of view he would certainly favor removing Mayor Emanuel from office for delaying the release of a video simply to improve his re-election prospects. Right?

    Well absolutely, if Mr. Littwin’s outrage over white cop/black victim incidents was genuine but because his views are driven exclusively by politics he simply ignored the story.


    “Sanders, meanwhile, has opened up an eight-point lead over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, leading her in Iowa 51% to 43% among likely Democratic presidential caucus-goers.” – CNN

    “Did Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s re-election fight play a role in his administration’s decision this year to pay $5 million to Mr. McDonald’s family members even before they filed a lawsuit? Why did City Hall include a provision in the settlement to keep the video private at least temporarily? And why did it take Anita Alvarez, the Cook County State’s Attorney, 13 months to charge the police officer involved in the shooting? She waited until hours before the city was forced to release the video to charge the officer, Jason Van Dyke, with first-degree murder” – New York Times.

    “Yet while Barack Obama’s former chief of staff is on Capitol Hill trying to shape the future of policing and urban violence at the US conference of mayors, back in his own city there is a growing clamor for him to quit because he has lost all credibility on exactly those issues.

    Ever since video of the 2014 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer emerged in December, Emanuel has faced mounting scrutiny and calls to resign, especially from sectors of Chicago’s black community who feel he has done nothing to help lift them out of poverty or tackle the daily scourge of gun violence.
    Brooks believes Emanuel should resign, a position shared by a majority of Chicagoans, according to a December poll that placed the mayor’s approval rating at an anemic 18%. However, despite the polling and a steady barrage of “Resign Rahm” protests since November, almost no one expects Emanuel, known for his hard-headedness, to assent.” – The Guardian

    “Support for Hillary Clinton among Democratic voters under 50 has tanked in the past month, according to a new Monmouth University poll.

    In December, she led fellow Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., 52%-35% in that demographic. Now she trails him 39%-52%” – USA Today.

    “Hillary Clinton’s campaign has spent the past few days indulging its worst instincts. It blundered into a dumb attack on Bernie Sanders, but rather than back down it raised the stakes. The result has been a reminder, to liberals, of what they like about Sanders and mistrust about Clinton. But it’s also been a missed opportunity for Clinton to make the case to Democratic primary voters that she should have been making all along.

    The subject was Sanders’s support for a single-payer health care system. The policy puts Clinton in a bind: It’s popular with liberals but dangerous in a general election. Sanders’s support for it is, to Clinton, everything wrong with his campaign in miniature — it’s an idea that sounds good on the stump but really reveals a preference for ideological symbolism over the hard work of policy change.” – Vox

    We’re told “Black Lives Matter,” but when it comes to black cops … not so much.” – National Review

    “The truth is that mass shootings are only a small part of gun violence in this country.” – Mike Littwin

    “The American people should feel confident that, you know, we are going to be able to defend ourselves and make sure that, you know, we have a good holiday and go about our lives,” – President Obama

    “Well, no, I don’t think (ISIS are) gaining strength. What is true is that from the start our goal has been first to contain (ISIS), and we have contained them” – President Obama

    “Let’s be clear: Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.” – Hillary Clinton

    “Now, you might argue that politicians have no reason to tweak the brittle sensibilities of fundamentalists. We don’t want the president to create more terrorists by saying stuff that’s offensive to terrorists, after all. But do the rest of us have to embrace this dishonesty?” – The Federalist

    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner

    Greenlight a Vet
    Folds of Honor
    Memorial Day – May 30, 2016

  2. I’m sorry for a late reply I just noticed this story I’m a retired police officer and I rarely watch the news, the deputies involved I’m sure were well aware of positional asphyxiation which watching the video is probably what killed Mr.Marshall but what no one will say is Mr.Marshalls fall began long before that night in jail I saw a man that no one had cared for in a long time and I’m sure over the years had put his family through hell with his illness and this is a tragic event but don’t let a broken health system place this on those deputies backs it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback but those deputies are deputies not mental health nurses, police officers make next to nothing and are EXPECTED to wear many hats and absorb all blame when real solutions are unattainable you are basically the face society can point at and blame for all the answers no one will ever have that is what you get paid for the title “police officer” is just another term for scapegoat. And until YOU have had the personal pleasure of wrestling a bipolar individual off his or her meds hell bent on not doing anything you need them too then sir you should reserve opinion. I was 6’3 280 pounds built like a brick house and had several “undernourished and weak looking” mentally ill people throw me around like a ragdoll. The anger needs to be channeled in the right direction it’s easier to blame a couple deputies then to look at a COMPLETLY BROKEN MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM let officers be officers FIX THE HEALTH SYSTEM. I will also add that I observed no hard handed strikes from the deputies and the medical examiner is a coward calling it a homicide bending to public opinion everyone hates the police till you need them.

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