BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – Two former Boulder County sheriff’s deputies who were convicted of causing the death of a 23-year-old intoxicated man by placing him on his stomach and squeezing him into a van to take him to a detox center have been sentenced to prison. James O’Brien and Adam Lunn were sentenced Thursday for the September 2018 death of Demetrius Shankling.
O’Brien and Lunn were found guilty in August of manslaughter.
An autopsy found that Shankling died of suffocation because of his positioning, with alcohol and amphetamine as contributing factors.
Shankling was out celebrating what would become his final birthday on Sept. 18, 2018. Body camera video from Boulder County Sheriff’s deputies recorded what happened after they arrived.
“What’s your first name? Demetrius. What’s that? Demetrius.”
He was intoxicated with alcohol and drugs.
As the deputies escorted him to a van he was told, “It’s not like you’re not in trouble you are not safe right now. You are highly intoxicated.”
The young man wouldn’t step into the van so the deputies slid him in face down.
“Adios muchacho” could be heard said by one of the deputies.
The 6 foot Shankling was placed in a 5 foot space handcuffed behind his back. They drove him 16 minutes to what’s called the Addiction Recovery Center, but he was unconscious upon arrival. Shankling died nearly a month later from asphyxiation and the drugs he had taken.
His grandmother was among those testifying at Thursday’s sentencing.
“I would spend every day with him in ICU holding his hand hoping he would wake up, holing his hand praying for his life.”
Lunn apologized to the victim’s family as he spoke before the court.
“My involvement that night is something that will impact them forever.”
O’Brien was apologetic as well.
“The mistakes that we made, I made, that day haunt me to this day. I didn’t look in the back of the van I should have known there was another container longer,” he said.
The judge listened patiently as O’Brien continued.
“Every day I see his face when I pull him out of the ambulance and I try to revive him.”
He was then sentenced to 6 years in prison. Lunn was given 3.
Their former boss, Sheriff Joe Pelle, called it a tragedy that didn’t need to occur.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)