BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) — Two deputies in Boulder County have been charged with manslaughter after the death of a man. Boulder County Sheriff Deputies James O’Brien and Adam Lunn are being charged with manslaughter for their roles in the death of Demetrius Shankling.
Boulder Police Department officers contacted Shankling on Sept. 9, 2018, and determined Shankling was highly intoxicated and needed to be transported to the Addiction Recovery Center (ARC). Mr. Shankling had turned 23 years old that day.
Deputies O’Brien and Lunn responded to transport Shankling to the ARC. According to the affidavit, O’Brien and Lunn were working an extra duty shift due to back-to-school activities for the University of Colorado-Boulder. They picked up Shankling at about 2:30 a.m.
The affidavit states that Shankling was “uncooperative and antagonistic” and “passively” resisted getting into the van.
The deputies handcuffed Shankling and placed him on his stomach in a small compartment within a transport van. Investigators determined that both deputies had been specifically trained to not place a handcuffed individual in this position.
Shankling was found unresponsive after 16 minutes in the van and never regained consciousness. He died 27 days later on Oct. 6, 2018.
An autopsy revealed Shankling died from positional asphyxia based on being compressed into the compartment in the transport van. The forensic pathologist concluded the manner of death to be homicide.
“The passenger side rear prisoner compartment of the transport van is 4.748 feet from front to back and Shankling is 6-feet-tall,” the affidavit states. “In order to close the door, Shankling’s legs has to be lifted off the floor of the prisoner compartment to make him fit and close the door.”
His head was pushed up against the wall of the compartment, his pelvic area was raised off the floor and his left leg was wedged against the inside of the door, the affidavit states.
“At no point did Deputies O’Brien and Lunn attempt to lift Shankling onto the bench seat inside the prisoner compartment,” the affidavit continues.
After securing the prisoner compartment, the deputies could be heard making comments such as “adios muchacho,” “hasta la vista,” and “another satisfied customer.”
When they arrived at the ARC they discovered Shankling’s face was “purplish-gray” and he was unconscious and not breathing.
Both deputies were placed on administrative leave on Sept. 9 and will remain on leave pending the internal administrative review into their actions.
Manslaughter is a class four felony with a non-mandatory sentencing range of two to six years in the Department of Corrections.
Deputy O’Brien originally joined the sheriff’s office as a deputy in 1998 and has worked in the jail, patrol and investigations. Deputy O’Brien’s most recent assignment was in patrol, assigned to night shift.
Deputy Lunn joined the sheriff’s office as a civilian crew boss in 2009. Deputy Lunn was promoted to deputy in 2011 and spent the majority of his career in the Jail Division. Deputy Lunn’s most recent assignment was working in jail operations, assigned to night shift.
County Sheriff Joe Pelle activated the Boulder County Investigation Team to take on the investigation.
“I appreciate that Sheriff Pelle made the decision to activate the Boulder County Investigation Team to conduct the investigation into this tragic incident,” District Attorney Michael Dougherty stated. “When these difficult situations arise, it is important to have a shared and unwavering commitment to reaching the right result for the victim, law enforcement, and our community.”
Due to the filing of charges and criminal prosecution, evidence from the body-worn camera video and surveillance video from the van will not be publicly released at this time.