Inmate's Death Confirms Risks of Prone Position Restraint

The recent death of a mentally ill Denver inmate asks the public to reevaluate police force and conduct. According to reports, five police officers restrained Michael Marshall, 50, while he was experiencing a medical episode. Officers subdued Michael by holding him down face down, on his stomach. The 112-pound man died from “complications of positional asphyxia.” Marshall was being detained for trespassing.

District Attorney Mitch Morrissey declined to file criminal charges against the law enforcement officers, citing Marshall’s previous health conditions as a reason. The deceased inmate was said to have lung and heart disease. Family members were disappointed with Morrissey’s decision. Marshall’s niece, Natalia Marshall, commented. She said,

He didn't try to hurt anyone. He wasn't threatening. And for them [officers] to forcefully restrain him the way they did and brutally murder him just because of the fact that he was trespassing? Is beyond my thoughts.

The recent events echo to a long-running debate on police conduct and the use of the prone restraint to detain or control suspects. Many instances demonstrate the lethal nature of holding a person down with for a prolonged period. While the maneuver helps police officers take control of potentially dangerous situations, they can also be part of the problem. In most cases, the arresting officer does not know of a person’s preexisting health conditions. Health issues such as obesity, heart conditions, and others can make the prone position deadlier for some than others.

While many professionals cite resistance as a reason the prone position turns deadly, others argue that sometimes distress is mistaken for resistance. Mentally ill individuals have particularly more difficulty while held in this position. Senior advisor for Human Rights Watch, Jamie Fellner, states,

If you have somebody who is psychotic and you, the officer, are trying to get handcuffs on him and push him into a cell, in that person's mind you are his demons come real.

The Justice Department has long warned officers about asphyxiation caused by prone positions or restraint.

At Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP, we believe police officers have a constitutional responsibility to not use lethal maneuvers on members of the community. They should be held accountable for their actions. If the law enforcement authorities have wrongfully mistreated you or a loved one, call our firm today. Our police misconduct attorneys will review your case and inform you of your rights.


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