Grand jury refuses to indict officers in the death of black man held in prison
A Texas grand jury has refused to indict eight former jailers on criminal charges in the death of Marvin Scott III, a 26-year-old black man who died after being restrained and pepper sprayed at the Collin County Jail in March.
Greg Willis, the Collin County District Attorney, said in a statement Tuesday that the grand jury reviewed video footage of the episode and heard witness testimony before ruling that the former detention officers – Andres Cardenas, Alec Difatta , Blaise Mikulewicz, Rafael Paradez, Justin Patrick, James Schoelen, Christopher Windsor and Austin Wong – would not be charged.
The jury said in a statement that it had concluded that “no probable cause existed to charge a person with a criminal offense relating to Mr Scott’s death.”
Mr Scott’s family and protesters had demanded that the jailers be arrested and that authorities release footage showing what happened inside the prison.
Seven of the jailers were fired by Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner and the eighth resigned, but protests outside the jail lasted for weeks. On Tuesday evening, dozens of people gathered outside the courthouse to protest the grand jury’s decision.
Mr. Scott was arrested on March 14 for possession of marijuana.
Police said earlier this year that they took Mr Scott to hospital because he was acting erratically. Mr. Scott was then taken to the county jail, where detention officers immobilized him and sprayed him with pepper. A hood was placed over his head and he died later that night.
The county medical examiner said Mr Scott’s death was caused by “a fatal acute stress response in a person with previously diagnosed schizophrenia during a restraint fight with law enforcement,” The Dallas Morning News reported.
Mr. Scott was showing signs of a “mental health crisis” when detention officers entered his cell to subdue him, said S. Lee Merritt, his family’s lawyer. Mr Merritt said in April that Mr Scott suffered from schizophrenia and sometimes used marijuana as a form of self-medication when his prescription drugs were not working well.
The grand jury recommended that a task force be convened to study what happened inside the prison on the day of Mr Scott’s death “with the aim of avoiding any future similar tragedies.” The task force, he said, would be made up of community leaders, criminal justice and law enforcement actors, local hospitals and mental health care providers.
“The goal of this working group should be to find the best solutions for the treatment of people with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal justice system,” the jury said in a statement.
Mr Willis said in a statement he shared the grand jury’s concern for “the treatment of people with mental illness”, and he pledged to honor Mr Scott “by taking the initiative to form a group. working to find lessons learned so that his tragic death in custody was not in vain.
Mr. Merritt said on Twitter that the family were “extremely disappointed” with the jury’s decision.
The evidence, he said, “provides more than sufficient probable cause for the charges.”
Mr Merritt said the family eagerly awaited a review by a federal grand jury.
“The failure of prosecutors to get charges in this case reflects a tendency in Texas to underestimate the lives of African Americans with mental health crises,” Merritt said.
Zach Horn, the lawyer representing six of the officers, said in a statement that the sheriff’s dismissal of the officers “was nothing more than a frightened politician sacrificing the livelihoods of dedicated officials for political reasons,” adding that he would try to get his clients reinstated.
Robert Rogers, a lawyer representing Mr. Cardenas, declined to comment when reached by phone.
Mr Scott’s death came nearly a year after the murder of George Floyd, prompting nationwide calls for better policing, especially in interactions with people from color.