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Grand jury declines to charge Texas officers over in-custody death

Marvin David Scott III is seen in a booking photo obtained by CBS Dallas / Fort Worth.

 

A grand jury on Tuesday declined to charge eight officers over the in-custody death of Marvin David Scott III, according to a press release from the Collin County District Attorney’s Office. The 26-year-old Black man, who was originally arrested for possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana, allegedly died after officers at a Texas detention facility pepper sprayed him and put a spit mask on his face as he was suffering from a mental health crisis.

“After careful consideration of the applicable law and all the relevant facts we find that no probable cause exists to charge any person with a criminal offense related to the death of Mr. Scott,” the grand jury said in a statement obtained by CBS Dallas/Fort Worth.

“We would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Mr. Scott for the terrible loss you have suffered,” the grand jury added. “We hope you can someday find peace.”

Scott was arrested on March 14 by the Allen Police Department, which said he was “acting in an erratic manner” at an outlet mall. Police said he was then held in an emergency room for approximately three hours “due to the possible ingestion of drugs.”

At approximately 6:22 p.m., Scott was transferred to a detention center in Collin County, Sheriff Jim Skinner said during a March press conference. Skinner said Scott began showing “strange behavior” in the booking area some time after he arrived, but did not elaborate.

While attempting to secure Scott to a restraint bed, officers deployed pepper spray once and placed a spit mask  — a covering with netting fabric designed to prevent a person from spitting on officers — on his face, Skinner said. Scott fell unresponsive while being placed on the bed at approximately 10:22 p.m., and was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

In early April, Skinner fired seven officers who he said “violated well-established Sheriff’s Office policies and procedures” when handling Scott, and accepted the resignation of an eighth officer who was under investigation. At least one of the officers appealed the decision and has since been reinstated, according to CBS DFW.

Weeks later, a medical examiner ruled Scott’s death a homicide, attributing it to “fatal acute stress response in an individual with previously diagnosed schizophrenia during restraint struggle with law enforcement.”

The jury viewed video footage of the incident, which has not been made public. Scott’s family was also permitted to view the footage in late April, and said they saw “repeated opportunities” to provide aid to Scott, who “was clearly in a schizophrenic episode.”

“Instead, he was maced,” said family attorney Lee Merritt. “He was assaulted, he was restrained, he was treated as someone who was being criminally non-compliant, not as someone in need of desperate help.”

“When I was watching this, I felt like I wanted to be there for him, but I couldn’t. It was too late,” another family member said. “And we ask for justice because at this point that’s all we can ask for.”

Scott’s family has been informed of the grand jury’s decision, Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis said in Tuesday’s release. Merritt tweeted that the family was “extremely disappointed” in the decision, adding that they look forward to a review by a federal grand jury.

“The failure of prosecutors to secure indictments in this matter reflects a trend in Texas of undervaluing the lives of African American’s suffering mental health crisis,” Merritt, the family attorney, wrote.

Attorneys for the eight officers said that they are “thankful” for the decision, and claimed that Skinner’s “rush to fire our clients was nothing more than a frightened politician sacrificing the livelihoods of dedicated public servants for political expediency.”

The Collin County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on Tuesday’s decision, citing pending civil service hearings for seven of the officers.

In the absence of charges, the jury recommended establishing a work group to study what occurred the night of Scott’s death, and to establish best practices for treating individuals with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Willis, the district attorney, said Tuesday that he planned to assemble such a group.

“I too share the grand jury’s concern for the treatment of individuals suffering from mental illness, and I pledge to honor Mr. Scott by taking the lead in assembling a working group to look for lessons learned so that his tragic in-custody death will not have been in vain,” Willis said.


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