McKINNEY, Texas -- Seven officers involved in the in-custody death of a Black jail inmate in Texas whose family members say may have been suffering a mental health crisis have been fired, a sheriff said.
The detention officers violated sheriff's office policies and procedures leading up to the death of Marvin Scott III, Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner said in a news release Thursday. An eighth officer resigned. The names and races of the officers haven’t been released.
Scott, 26, was arrested March 14 at an outlet mall in Allen on a charge of possessing less than two ounces of marijuana, authorities have said. Allen officers took Scott to a hospital because he was reportedly acting erratically. Scott was released and police took him to the county jail.
While at the jail, Scott began to exhibit “some strange behavior,” Skinner said at a March 19 news conference. Detention officers placed Scott on a restraint bed, used pepper spray and covered his face with a spit mask. Scott became unresponsive at some point and later was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The Collin County medical examiner’s office has not yet released a cause of death for Scott. The Texas Rangers were continuing to investigate Scott’s death, according to Skinner’s statement.
Skinner has said the spit mask used on Scott fit over his head and had a net on it. Law enforcement's use of face coverings such as spit hoods on people — and the frequent reliance on police to respond to mental health emergencies — drew new attention last year following Daniel Prude’s suffocation in Rochester, New York. The mesh coverings have been linked to other deaths.
At his news conference last month, Skinner said there is video of the interaction between Scott and detention officers and added that the Texas Rangers also has the video and is reviewing it. Capt. Nick Bristow, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, said in an email Friday that the video is from inside the jail and that it would not be made public at this time. Skinner has said the sheriff's office would not comment on any specific details related to the case because of ongoing investigations.
“The death of this young man is a profound tragedy and we have an obligation to uncover the full and complete truth, firm, concrete and factual information," Skinner said last month.
Family members have said that Scott had schizophrenia and may have been suffering a mental health crisis. Scott’s family has hired a forensic pathologist to conduct an independent autopsy.
Civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, who is representing Scott's family, has said he thinks Scott was jailed for marijuana possession because he was Black and viewed as a criminal rather than as someone in crisis.
In recent years, various law enforcement agencies and local and state governments around the U.S. have instituted policies limiting or ending arrests for small amounts of marijuana. Four states, including New Jersey and Arizona, last year passed referenda allowing recreational cannabis, and the U.S. House in December approved a bill to decriminalize and tax marijuana at the federal level. The legislation later stalled in the Senate.
A statement Thursday by Merritt noted that Scott's funeral was Wednesday.
“Just one day after the funeral of Marvin Scott III, the Collin County Sheriff has fired seven detention officers in connection with his death,” the statement said. “We are pleased with this decision and consider this progress.”
The statement also asks that the fired officers “be arrested and brought to justice.”