Grand Jury Declines to Indict Officers in Death of Black Man Restrained in Jail

The death of Marvin Scott III, who died after being pepper-sprayed and placed in a spit hood, prompted weeks of protests in front of the jail in Collin County, Texas.,

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A grand jury in Texas has declined to indict eight former jailers on criminal charges in the death of Marvin Scott III, a 26-year-old Black man who died after being restrained and pepper-sprayed at the Collin County jail in March.

Greg Willis, the Collin County district attorney, said in a statement on Tuesday that the grand jury had reviewed video footage of the episode and heard testimony from witnesses before coming to its decision that the former detention officers — Andres Cardenas, Alec Difatta, Blaise Mikulewicz, Rafael Paradez, Justin Patrick, James Schoelen, Christopher Windsor and Austin Wong — would not be charged.

The jury said in a statement that it found “no probable cause exists to charge any person with a criminal offense related to the death of Mr. Scott.”

Mr. Scott’s family and protesters had been demanding that the jailers be arrested and that the authorities release footage that would show what transpired inside the jail.

Seven of the jailers were fired by Sheriff Jim Skinner of Collin County and the eighth resigned, but protests outside the jail went on for weeks. On Tuesday night, dozens of people rallied at the courthouse, protesting the grand jury’s decision.

Mr. Scott had been arrested on March 14 on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge.

The police said earlier this year that they took Mr. Scott to a hospital because he was acting erratically. Mr. Scott was then taken to the county jail, where detention officers restrained and pepper-sprayed him. A spit hood was placed over his head, and he died later that night.

The county’s medical examiner said Mr. Scott’s death was caused by “fatal acute stress response in an individual with previously diagnosed schizophrenia during restraint struggle with law enforcement,” The Dallas Morning News reported.

Mr. Scott was exhibiting signs of a “mental health crisis” when detention officers entered his cell to restrain him, said S. Lee Merritt, his family’s lawyer. Mr. Merritt said in April that Mr. Scott had schizophrenia and sometimes used marijuana as a form of self-medication when his prescription medication did not work well.

The grand jury recommended that a work group be convened to study what occurred inside the jail on the day of Mr. Scott’s death “in an effort to avoid any similar future tragedy.” The work group, it said, would consist of community leaders, criminal justice and law enforcement stakeholders, local hospitals and mental health providers.

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Marvin Scott III died after being arrested on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge.Credit…Lasondra Scott, via Associated Press

“The goal of this work group should be finding the best solutions for the treatment of individuals with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal justice system,” the jury said in a statement.

Mr. Willis said in a statement that he shared the grand jury’s concern for “the treatment of individuals suffering from mental illness,” and he pledged 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.”

Mr. Merritt said on Twitter that the family was “extremely disappointed” in the jury’s decision.

The evidence, he said, “provides more than sufficient probable cause for indictments.”

Mr. Merritt said the family looked 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 Americans suffering mental health crisis,” Mr. Merritt said.

Zach Horn, the lawyer representing six of the officers, said in a statement that the sheriff’s firing of the officers “was nothing more than a frightened politician sacrificing the livelihoods of dedicated public servants for political expediency,” adding that he would try to get his clients reinstated.

Robert Rogers, a lawyer representing Mr. Cardenas, declined to comment when reached by phone.

The death of Mr. Scott came almost a year after the murder of George Floyd, which prompted nationwide calls for improved policing, specifically when it comes to interactions with people of color.

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