DENVER (AP) — A jail inmate choked on his own vomit and suffocated while being restrained by Denver sheriff's deputies during a psychotic episode, according to an autopsy report released Friday.
The finding adds to the list of problems for a troubled agency trying to reform after a series of misconduct and excessive force allegations.
Michael Marshall, 50, died from "complications of positional asphyxia" after the Nov. 11 incident, and the death is a homicide, the Denver medical examiner's office said. His family removed him from life support nine days later. Six deputies remain on restricted duty.
Deputies restrained Marshall in a prone position for several minutes after he became aggressive toward another inmate, refused to follow commands, tried to leave through a doorway and became combative, according to the autopsy report, which offers the first detailed description of the encounter. Marshall resisted, even after deputies put him in wrist and ankle restraints and covered his face with a spit mask.
Paramedics were called after Marshall had a heart attack and became unresponsive. They took him to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with brain injuries due to lack of oxygen, respiratory failure and other problems. Heart disease and emphysema also contributed to his death, the autopsy report stated.
At the time of his death, he was 5-foot-4 and just 112 pounds.
Marshall's family and their attorneys urged prosecutors to bring charges against the deputies and demanded the department release evidence, including surveillance video of the encounter.
"We need justice," his brother, Rodney Marshall, told reporters. "Why are they covering it up? Where's the transparency?"
The deputies also want the department to release video, "so that all can understand this was a horrible, tragic death, however not the result of any wrongdoing by Denver sheriff's deputies," attorney Donald Sisson said on behalf of one of the deputies, whom he would not identify. All six acted appropriately in response to Marshall, Sisson said.
Police and prosecutors continue to conduct a criminal probe, Sheriff Patrick Firman said. Authorities had no immediate plans to release the video, but Firman pledged a "thorough investigative process."
The case comes a year after a federal jury awarded a record $4.65 million to the family of a homeless street preacher who died in the Denver jail in 2010. Deputies shocked him with a stun gun while he was handcuffed, put him in a sleeper hold and lay on top of him, apparently in an effort to control him. The ensuing $6 million payout to Marvin Booker's family was among the largest in Denver's history.
The department is trying to make sweeping reforms after that case and other costly excessive force cases, which led to the sheriff's resignation. A pair of national consulting firms produced a 300-page report pointing to a wide range of problems, including deputies' use of force.
Marshall's death is the first test for Firman, a longtime Illinois corrections official appointed in October to head up the roughly 890-member department that oversees Denver's jails.
Marshall, who had a history of mental illness and drug abuse, was arrested Nov. 7 on suspicion of trespassing and disturbing the peace at a motel where he had been staying. His family said he was homeless, preferring to live on the streets than with family.