BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — Two Boulder County sheriff's deputies are facing manslaughter charges, accused of playing a part in the asphyxiation death of a 23-year-old man on his birthday, the 20th Judicial District Attorney's Office said in a Monday press release.
Boulder County sheriff's deputies James O'Brien and Adam Lunn were charged after an autopsy revealed the man died from positional asphyxia - from the way he was placed in the back of a van during transport, according to the District Attorney's Office. The forensic pathologist in the case deemed the manner of death a homicide.
Demetrius Shankling, fresh from a bar around 2:20 a.m. on the morning of his 23rd birthday, was met by a pair of Boulder Police Department officers, according to the arrest affidavit. Shankling was with three other men and had just tumbled through the grass near the corner of Canyon Boulevard and 9th Street.
The affidavit says the officers stopped Shankling out of worry he may have been a danger to himself and others. After talking with him, where he'd been cooperative but verbally combative, the officers called the Boulder County Sheriff's Office to get him transported to the Addiction Recovery Center.
Deputies O'Brien and Lunn were working extra duty shifts transporting students to the recovery center - usually the case during the beginning of the CU Boulder school year, the affidavit says.
When O'Brien and Lunn arrived, they worked to get him into the back of the van while waiting for the Boulder PD officers to finish off the recovery center order, the affidavit says. Shankling was uncooperative and passively resisted. O'Brien and Lunn got a pair of handcuffs on him and managed to get him into the van by sliding him on his tummy into the compartment, the affidavit says.
According to the affidavit, the van compartment was one of two - almost five feet long. Shankling was 6 feet tall. He didn't move as deputies put him into the back of the van and to get him in there, they had to force the van door closed, the report says.
Before leaving, the deputies noticed Shankling's foot was wedging the door closed and assumed he was doing that on purpose, the report says. The arrest affidavit says O'Brien told investigators after the fact that once the door was shut, Shankling shouted "F--- YOU!," but that could not be heard on a video of the event, the report says.
During the 16-minute drive to the recovery center, Shankling didn't move. The arrest affidavit says he may have made some coughing and exhaling noises, but that was it. The deputies, the affidavit says, could monitor him from one of the screens in the front of the van. Upon arrival at the recovery center, O'Brien noticed quickly that Shankling's face was blue and that he wasn't responsive, the report says.
The deputies called for medical assistance and immediately began life-saving efforts. Shankling was taken to Boulder Community Hospital unresponsive, the report says. He would be taken off life-support 27 days later after being transported to the Swedish Medical Center in Englewood. The affidavit says Shankling had been in a comatose state and hadn't woken up the entire time he was in hospital care.
Shankling had a blood alcohol content level of .352 and had amphetamines in his system around the time of death, the report says. According to a BAC chart from nonprofit Aware Awake Alive, .352 BAC is life-threatening. According to the pathology report, Shankling manner of death was a homicide caused by positional asphyxiation with the combined toxic effects of ethanol and amphetamine contributing.
Per the affidavit, neither Lunn nor O'Brien put Shankling up on the bench in the back of the van or turned him onto his side - as was their training.
"At no point did Deputies O'Brien and Lunn attempt to lift Shankling onto the bench seat inside the prisoner compartment. If they had placed him on a bench seat, it would have been possible to seat belt Shankling in an upright, seated position," the report says.
Officer-involved deaths are investigated by the Boulder County Investigation Team - this affidavit was compiled by an officer from the Longmont Police Department. After the law enforcement investigation, the DA then reviews the case to see if criminal charges will be filed. The Longmont police officer filed his report with the District Attorney's Office on Monday.
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