Denver Inmate’s Suffocation Death Raises Questions About Police Tactic


The death of a 112-pound jail inmate who choked on his own vomit and suffocated after Denver sheriff's deputies restrained him in a psychotic episode is drawing attention to the way he was subdued: face-down on his stomach with five deputies holding him down, the Associated Press reports. Experts say the common but risky police tactic of restraining someone in a prone position can be lethal, especially on those with medical problems and the mentally ill, whose distress is sometimes confused with resistance. While the method has been linked to several deaths, some in law enforcement say it is one of the most effective ways to stay safe while controlling a combative person.

Denver officials released surveillance footage of deputies' encounter with Michael Marshall, 50, a homeless man who had been jailed for trespassing and died because of “complications of positional asphyxia,” said the medical examiner. District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said he wouldn't file charges against the deputies involved, saying multiple factors, including lung and heart disease, contributed to the death. The deputies' use of force was necessary against the struggling inmate, Morrissey said. The case, which prompted calls for a federal investigation, recalled the 2010 death of Marvin Booker, a homeless street preacher, after Denver deputies shocked him with a Taser while he was handcuffed, put him in a sleeper hold and lay on top of him. When the maneuver turns deadly, it's often because a suspect is disobeying commands or resisting, which can cause officers to apply even more pressure, said Harvey Hedden of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association.

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