Independent Monitor warned against use of force

Posted at 8:19 PM, Jan 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-12 08:49:25-05

A controversial use of force contributed to the death of a Denver inmate. That use of force was warned against more than a year ago by Denver's Independent Monitor.

On Friday, the autopsy for Denver inmate Michael Marshall was released. Marshall died after being restrained by deputies in November.

According to the autopsy report, "died as a result of complications of positional asphyxia… Investigation reveals that the decedent vomited during a state of agitation and while being restrained in a prone position."

In August 2014, a Denver Police body camera recorded video of an officer holding a suspect face down, in the prone position in a planter on the 16th Street Mall. The suspect complained of not being able to breathe. Officer Chad Sinnema said he had his knee on the suspect's shoulders, while he was being held face down, but the body camera showed that the officer's knee was on the suspect's neck.

Sinnema was suspended for four days. Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell believed that Sinnema should have received a more severe suspension and cautioned against the use of the prone position.

In his 2014 annual report, Nick Mitchell wrote, "restraining a suspect in a prone position with pressure on the back of the neck risks significant injury, including positional asphyxia."

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"The Independent Monitor deserves to have those recommendations taken seriously and potentially turned into some policy changes," said Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez. "We cannot have people dying on our watch, based off of uses of force that should not be utilized."

Lopez has been calling for city council to give the Independent Monitor's office more power. Right now, the Monitor can review and make recommendations, but cannot change policy.

"Is it a threat to the safety and well-being of people who are in our custody? Absolutely. And these kind of recommendations need a prompt policy change," said Lopez.

On Monday, the Denver Sheriff's Department said that any review of the administrative policies won't begin until after the District Attorney finishes the criminal investigation.