TO: Chief Prosecutor Otto Cobbler
FROM: Assistant Prosecutor
RE: Homicide Investigation of Sarah Marbs’s Death
DATE: November ___, 2021.
- Whether the police officers violated any laws.
- Whether the police officers are liable under law.
- The police violated the laws regarding the lawful use of control and/or restraint for detained individuals.
- The police officers are culpable for criminally negligent homicide.
Statement of Facts
Sarah Marbs was a 45-year old female who detained at the Middling Rapids Airport after a confrontation in the said airport on or about January 12, 2021. According to the police report, Sarah had been placed into the holding cell while handcuffed. She was loud and restless while being detained. The officers handcuffed her behind her back, and fastened the cuffs on a holding cell cuff. Further, the police fastened the leg iron to the handcuff chain. However, shortly after being detained, she was found unresponsive in her cell with her handcuffs close to her neck. She was sitting on the floor with her face towards the wall. Her leg was also fastened to a leg iron. Any and all attempts to resuscitate proved futile and she was pronounced dead at 1529 hrs.
The Sochi County authorized an autopsy on Sarah on or about January 16, 2021 at 0800 hrs. A report by the Office of the Medical Examiner showed that a blood pressure cuff was surrounding her left arm; an intravenous line was present on her right arm where blood was adherent; a lose shirt button lay close to her right arm; and her shirt showed signs of tears where four buttons were missing.
The examiner further observed that there was gastric material on her nose and mouth; and there was no sign of trauma on her face and her lower neck. There was a pressure mark on the right side of her neck.
There were also bruises on her wrists; arms and legs. The right side of her neck also showed hemorrhage. There were contusions on her scalp. The examiner also observed that Sarah was intoxicated with ethanol and prescription anti-depressants.
The Medical examiner concluded that Sarah died as a result of asphyxia by hanging.
- Violation of Custody Procedures
Section 113.01(f) of the Middling Rapids Police Department Operations Manual provides guidelines for restraining prisoners. It states in pertinent part that restraint “may be accomplished by handcuffing one of the prisoner’s hands to an eyebolt or rail, where the room/cell is so equipped, or by handcuffing the prisoner’s hands behind the back.”
Physical restraint may also contribute to asphyxia. Notably, Restraint asphyxia is determined on the basis of the historical events leading up to the episodic event of physical struggle.
Unreasonable use of restraints is a form of excessive police force. Notably, “[t]he police power of the State extends only to such measures as are reasonable, and the general rule is that all police regulations must be reasonable under all circumstances.” 6 Rawle C. L. p. 236.
Police conduct is deemed reasonable if the conduct is fit and appropriate to the end in view, and is manifestly adopted in good faith for that purpose. If the condition should be clearly arbitrary and capricious; if no reason with reference to the end in view could be assigned for it; it certainly would not be reasonable, and would be beyond the power of the legislature to impose. State v.Vandersluis, 42 Minn. 129 (43 N.W. 789, 6 L.R.A. 119).
In the instant case, the physical restraint used on the deceased was unreasonable. The report from the police expressly stated that Sarah had been calm by the time the officers left the cell. It follows; even when she was calm, the police still left her in the physical restraint, to wit, the officers had handcuffed her behind her back, and fastened the cuffs on a holding cell cuff. Further, the police fastened the leg iron to the handcuff chain. This contributed to the asphyxiation that led to the death of the deceased.
- The police officers are culpable for criminally negligent homicide
According to the Michigan Supreme Court in People v. Campbell (1927), 237 Mich. 424, 428,
“one is not criminally responsible for death from negligence unless the negligence is so great that the law can impute a criminal intent. If death ensues from negligence which shows a culpable indifference to the safety of others, the negligence is said to be gross or wanton or willful, and is equivalent to criminal intent, a necessary element of every common-law crime. [It follows;] one whose acts cause death under such circumstances is guilty of involuntary manslaughter or common-law negligent homicide.” (Emphasis added).
Similarly, in People v. Marshall (1961), 362 Mich. 170, 172, the Supreme Court declared in another involuntary manslaughter case, “It is axiomatic that `criminal guilt under our law is personal fault.'” See, also, People v. Barnes (1914), 182 Mich. 179, 198, 199.
In the instant case, the police officers were negligent as to the danger the deceased faced in the physical restraints. The position they left her in at the cell contributed to the asphyxiation. This amounts to criminal negligence under the aforementioned laws.
Besides, the fact that the deceased was intoxicated does not absolve the police of liability. Notably, alcohol and depressant drugs, statistically, may be involved but do not create the hyper excitability required to create the excited delirium state.
In conclusion, the police acted in disregard of the safety of the deceased when they left her restrained on both hands; and fastening her leg to a leg iron, which they attached to the cuffs. Accordingly, the police officers are culpable for criminally negligent homicide.
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