Former Colorado deputies get prison for detox van death

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Two former Colorado sheriff’s deputies were sentenced to prison Thursday for causing the death of an intoxicated man by placing him on his stomach and squeezing him into a van to take him to a detox center.

Former Boulder County sheriff’s deputies James O’Brien and Adam Lunn were sentenced to six years and three years respectively for the 2018 death of 23-year-old Demetrius Shankling. O'Brien and Lunn were found guilty in August of manslaughter.

According to an arrest affidavit, they put the 6-foot-tall (1.8-meter-tall) man, with his hands behind his back, in a compartment that was less than 5 feet (1.5 meters) long. O’Brien and Lunn had to press on the compartment door to close it, causing Shankling’s leg to become wedged against the inside of the door, the affidavit said.

When they reached the detox center in the early hours of Sept. 9, 2018, Shankling was unresponsive and not breathing. He died after spending 27 days in a coma.

An autopsy found that Shankling died of suffocation because of his positioning, with alcohol and amphetamine as contributing factors.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle released a statement Thursday calling the death “a tragedy to everyone involved.”

“I’m sure of one thing, this death did not need to occur. I’m also sure these former deputies intended no harm,” he said. "I am confident we took all the necessary steps for accountability and transparency during this process. We relied on the justice system for a just outcome, and we trust that outcome is the best it can be under a horrible and yet preventable situation.”

Prosecutors told jurors that O’Brien and Lunn acted recklessly and disregarded their training on positional asphyxia. Meanwhile, the defense argued that the former deputies, who were working an extra shift at the time, were not very familiar with the van.

The sheriff’s office was in charge of taking people to detox that weekend because students had just returned to the University of Colorado and city and university police wanted to keep their officers on patrol instead.