Since Marvin Scott III’s in-custody death at the Collin County Jail, his family has been protesting in front of the jail, demanding the sheriff fire and arrest the detention officers involved in Marvin’s death. They also wanted to know their names.
A day after Scott’s death, Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner placed seven detention employees on administrative leave and ordered an internal investigation. A month later, the Collin County medical examiner ruled Scott’s manner of death a homicide.
Skinner never released those detention officers’ names. Instead, The Dallas Morning News released the officers’ names in an April 28 report. But Skinner did fire them, and an eighth resigned on April 1.
It seemed only a matter of time before the officers’ indictments followed.
But on Tuesday, those hopes for the family were dashed when a Collin County grand jury declined to indict the former detention officers.
“The failure of prosecutors to secure indictments in this matter reflects a trend in Texas of undervaluing the lives of African American’s suffering mental health crisis,” Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing the Scott family, wrote in a Tuesday tweet.
On March 14, Allen police arrested Scott for misdemeanor possession of less than two ounces of marijuana — a ticketed offense — and took Scott to the hospital because he’d been acting strange. The doctor eventually cleared him, and Allen police transported him to the Collin County Jail, where he died a few hours later after deputies attempted to restrain him.
The Texas Rangers investigated, and their findings were submitted to the grand jury. In a Tuesday press release, Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis claimed that the grand jury spent days reviewing evidence, watching video and listening to witnesses. Afterwards, they cleared all eight former detention officers of criminal wrongdoing.
“This case is a tragedy for all involved, first and foremost for the family and friends of Mr. Scott,” Willis said in the release. “For a parent to lose a child, including an adult child, is a loss that’s profound, permanent, and unfixable. I ask everyone to join me in sending the Scott family prayers of comfort, solace, and strength.”
The grand jury also released a statement recommending a countywide work group be convened to “study the events of March 14th” to prevent similar incidents in the future. The group, the jury recommended, should consist of Collin County community leaders, criminal justice and law enforcement stakeholders, along with local hospitals and mental health providers.
“This case was a tragedy foremost for Mr. Scott and his family, but also for his friends and our entire community,” the jury wrote in the statement. “We would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Mr. Scott for the terrible loss you have suffered. We hope you can someday find peace.”
Reaction leads to action
On Tuesday night, protesters marched to the Collin County Jail to support the Scott family as the news about the grand jury’s decision spread quickly on social media. Several local, state and national outlets are covering the story.
At the protest, Merritt said the Scott family is preparing to bring the case to a federal grand jury, WFAA reported. “Marvin Scott’s family is extremely disappointed” in the jury’s decision, Merritt wrote in a tweet. Further, he pointed out that the “evidence” is “more than sufficient probable cause for indictments.”
The evidence Merritt refers to in his tweet includes details of how Scott died. While Scott was in police custody that night, he “exhibited some strange behavior,” Skinner said at a press conference in March. The detention officers then pepper-sprayed him, covered his face with a spit hood and attempted to strap him to a restraint bed. He died during the struggle.
Now, Attorney Zach Horn, who represented all eight detention officers, said in a statement that they are looking to reinstate the officers who want to be reinstated. They were grateful the jury looked at the case based on “facts, evidence and the law instead of Twitter hashtags and Facebook gossip.” Horn also wrote that Skinner’s “rush” in firing the officers was “nothing more than a frightened politician sacrificing the livelihoods of dedicated public servants for political expediency.”
“Stakeholders all around Collin County,” he wrote, “are beginning to learn what many current and past Collin County Sheriff’s Office insiders already know: Jim Skinner is all hat and no cattle.”