Breaking A ‘Vicious Cycle’ For Denver’s Vulnerable Populations

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Photo: AC Independent Monitor On Civilian Oversight
A homeless camp spans the sidewalk on Lawrence Street in downtown Denver on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016.

The family of Michael Marshall, an inmate killed in 2015 in the Denver jail, was recently awarded a $4.6 million settlement from the city. Nick Mitchell, head of the civilian oversight agency for the police and sheriff's office, wonders if Marshall's death and the subsequent payoff could have been avoided.

Mitchell, Denver's independent monitor, spoke with Colorado Matters about the interaction between law enforcement and "vulnerable" populations, including young people, the homeless and the mentally ill. Marshall, who suffered psychotic episodes, was initially arrested on a trespassing charge and held on a $100 bond. He died nine days after aspirating on his vomit while being restrained by sheriff’s deputies during an episode.

This week, the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement is meeting in Denver to discuss possible solutions to help keep vulnerable populations from a "vicious cycle" of arrests and re-arrests and to prevent abuse of those in the criminal justice system. For example, Mitchell said, an alternative to holding Marshall in jail for a relatively minor charge could have been to release him on his own recognizance until his court date -- a program for low-money bond offenders that has been adopted by other cities.