North Texas Man Died In Jail After Being Restrained, Pepper Sprayed And Hooded, Sheriff Confirms
The Collin County sheriff is calling the death of a 26-year-old Black man in his jail a “profound tragedy,” and asking the community for patience as investigations proceed.
Two investigations have begun into Marvin Scott III’s death.
A lawyer for Scott’s family said the Frisco man was suffering a mental health crisis when he was arrested, and his death is the result of a failed law enforcement response.
The first investigation is a criminal probe by the Texas Rangers. The second is an internal affairs investigation by Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner, intended to determine if detention officers followed jail policies.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Skinner pledged to be thorough and transparent, and said he was “broken-hearted” when he responded to the jail on Sunday night after learning of Scott’s death.
“I’m not here to make excuses for anybody,” Skinner said. “People are upset. The family’s upset. The community’s upset. The death of this young man is a profound tragedy.”
Brutal New Details
Scott was arrested a week ago by Allen police for possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Sheriff Skinner said when Scott arrived at the jail, he exhibited “strange behavior.”
Scott’s family’s lawyer, Lee Merritt, said Scott had schizophrenia, and was experiencing a manic episode.
“They decided to use force to strap him down to a bed for his own safety,” Merritt said. “That is the worst imaginable thing that you can do to someone who is in a manic, schizophrenic state.”
Skinner said the detention officers used pepper spray subdue Scott, and covered his head with a spit hood, a mesh covering put over a person’s head to prevent them from spitting on or biting officers.
Merritt said he was present when Skinner showed a closed circuit video recording of the event to Scott’s family, and Skinner’s description of events “didn’t do justice to what [the officers] did,” while subduing Scott.
In addition to the pepper spray and the hood, Merritt said the video shows one officer climbing on top of Scott as other officers held him down and fastened his arms and legs with restraint straps. That officer put his knee into Scott’s should blade, and another officer jabbed his thumb into Scott’s neck in a “pain compliance” maneuver, Merritt said.
“It was barbaric. It went beyond negligence. It was completely criminal what they did,” he said. “They murdered him.”
Seven detention officers have been placed on leave.
Merritt has called on Skinner to arrest the officers and charge them.
At the Friday press conference, Skinner told reporters he doesn’t have that authority. The sheriff said Texas laws sidelines his office and only the Texas Rangers or the district attorney could criminally charge the officers.
“It is not my role to criminally investigate nor arrest the personnel that I placed on administrative leave,” Skinner said.
Merritt that said he and Skinner — both constitutional lawyers — disagree on the law, and pointed to the case of Amber Guyger, a former Dallas police officer who shot and killed Botham Jean in his apartment in 2018. Guyger was arrested before the Rangers concluded their investigation.
A Failed Response
Merritt says Scott should never have been arrested in the first place. He needed mental health care, but he was treated like a criminal.
Officers from the Allen police were called by security guards at the Allen Premium Outlets mall on Sunday afternoon after Scott allegedly lit a joint, Merritt said.
Possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana is the lowest drug offense on record. Some jurisdictions, like Dallas, no longer dedicate resources to arresting and jailing people found with a small amount of marijuana. They're given a citation like a traffic ticket instead.
Rather than arrest Scott, Merritt said the officers should’ve recognized his manic behavior as a sign of a mental health episode.
During two previous mental health episodes, he said, Scott had encountered police officers. Both times, he was taken to a psychiatric facility to get the care he needed, and charges were dropped.
But on Sunday, Scott was taken to a hospital instead of a psychiatric facility after he was arrested, where Merritt said he wasn’t given a proper mental health evaluation.
“They should’ve said, ‘he’s fine, physiologically, but we don’t have the proper tools to evaluate him mentally, please take him to the local mental health clinic,’” Merritt said.
The hospital okayed Scott to be taken to the Collin County Detention Center, where he was booked in.
Merritt said a jail is simply not equipped to handle a person in a manic state, and that the jail’s mental health staff should have recognized that it was inappropriate to admit him in his condition.
Four hours later, an ambulance was called. Scott was dead.
Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Have a story? Email Christopher at firstname.lastname@example.org.You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.
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