DENVER (KDVR) — Newly released body camera video shows the events that led to the death of a 23-year-old man who was being taken to detox in Boulder three years ago.
The two former Boulder County Sheriff’s deputies involved were just convicted of manslaughter in the case.
On Friday, a jury found James O’Brien and Adam Lunn guilty of manslaughter in the death of Demetrius Shankling.
“His family is of course devastated by what happened,” 20th Judicial District Attorney Michael Dougherty said.
Shankling was celebrating his 23rd birthday and was highly intoxicated. Officers decided he needed to go to detox. Many of the events from that night were captured on video from body-worn cameras as well as a camera inside the transport van.
The deputies put Shankling on his stomach in the transport van, although investigators say they had been trained to not transport people in that way. The deputies are also heard joking around, saying: “Adios muchacha,” “hasta la vista” and “another satisfied customer.”
After 16 minutes had passed, Shankling was found unresponsive in the van. He later died.
The defendant’s lawyer argued this was an accident and that you could tell from the video the two deputies were extremely concerned when they found Shankling unconscious. They could be heard yelling, “Demetrius, wake up! Wake up!” They started CPR immediately.
The district attorney said this was no accident.
“Demetrius was supposed to be taken somewhere to be kept safe, not handcuffed behind his back, shoved face down on his stomach in a transport van far too small for someone his size. That’s why these two individuals are being held fully accountable for his death,” Dougherty said.
“There was extensive testimony and evidence produced about the training and training records over the years, documenting that both of these deputies that had served for a long time in law enforcement, they had extensive training for many years in positional asphyxiation, and you can’t put someone in this position because you run the risk of causing their death. Both of them had been in numerous trainings and heard evidence, including in that very year when they were transporting Demetrius, that they had attended trainings. And in fact, some of the investigators who looked into the death of Demetrius Shankling attended the same classes and immediately recognized what they had done was wrong,” Dougherty said.
FOX31 legal analyst Chris Decker explained what needed to be proven for a conviction on manslaughter charges.
“The prosecution had to prove that those officers knew there was a substantial and unjustifiable risk by putting that subject in the back of the car positioned how he was and handcuffed,” Decker said.
He also explained the message this sends to other law enforcement officers.
“I think it sends different messages to different folks. We are starting to see the police accountability move in our country is not just in the legislatures. It’s not just in the protest. This is starting to show up now in juries and in verdicts juries are handing down. So the message I suppose should be: follow your training, study hard when you are exposed to training about safety and the use of weapons, the use of medicines, use of force and positional asphyxiation,” Decker said.
Dougherty said the sheriff led the charge to look into Shankling’s death.
“Certainly no one is above the law and everyone should be held equally accountable. I will highlight in this particular case we had here in Boulder County that Sheriff Joe Pelle is the one who initiated the response by the critical incident response team, which is a multi-agency team that looks into cases such as this one, involving a fatality, to make sure the investigation is independent of individuals from the sheriff’s office. To Sheriff Pelle’s credit, he notified the team as quickly as he did and allowed the thorough investigation to take place so we could reach the right and just outcome,” Dougherty said.
The manslaughter verdict came after a two-week trial. The two former deputies will be sentenced on Nov. 4. They face between 2-6 years in state prison.