As criminal defense lawyers, we do everything in our power to keep defendants out of jail. We realize that Texas’s jails and prisons are hazardous places that can harm inmates.
This was again illustrated by the tragic death of Marvin Scott III in Collin County. Police arrested Scott, a Black man, in Allen for allegedly possessing less than two ounces of marijuana last month. The 26-year-old was taken to a local jail and later pronounced dead, the Texas Tribune reported.
Now, seven detention officers in Collin County have been fired for allegedly restraining Scott, according to the Tribune.
An investigation found they placed a hood over his head and sprayed him with pepper spray as he suffered what his family described as a mental health emergency. A lawyer representing Scott’s family has called for criminal charges to be brought against the detention officers.
The Dallas Morning News reported on how Scott’s death caused an outcry in Allen with protestors marching on the Allen Outlets where he was arrested in March and demanding justice.
Protestors asked why police arrested Scott for the possession of a small amount of marijuana – a drug that will soon be legal in 16 states. They are questioning why Scott was restrained so violently in Collin County Jail instead of being taken to a medical center
Nationwide, many police departments are soft-pedaling on arrests for small quantities of marijuana, including several in the Dallas area.
Police and other law enforcement officials are also coming under scrutiny over their treatment of defendants and suspects who suffer mental health crises. Just over a year ago, Daniel Prude died after police restrained him during a mental health arrest in Rochester, New York. He ended up brain dead when a hood was placed over his head during the arrest.
NPR reported Prude’s death reignited an already energized movement for racial justice, this time focusing on mental health and policing.
While police officers receive crisis intervention team, or CIT training, critics claim law enforcement officers are not the best professionals to respond to mental health crises.
Former city police chief Cedric Alexander, now a psychologist and a consultant, told NPR he believes police, in general, are poorly equipped to answer mental health calls.
Scott, like Prude, suffered a mental illness that put him in frequent contact with law enforcement. The Tribune noted Scott had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. In the past, police had taken him to health centers when he suffered a crisis.
Scott ended up in police custody on March 14 after he was observed acting strangely in the Allen Premium Outlets in suburban Dallas. Officers allegedly found a small amount of marijuana on him. Unlike on previous occasions, he ended up in the Collin County Jail instead of a local mental health center.
Officials said he was moved into an isolation cell. When jail staff feared that he might hurt himself, they sent in seven officers to restrain Scott. Attorneys representing Scott’s family say one officer allegedly used an illegal chokehold on Scott as they struggled to restrain him.
The arrest of Scott shows people can still be locked up for possessing small quantities of marijuana in Texas. As Dallas-based criminal defense attorneys, we are committed to zealously representing people who are charged with drug offenses at whatever level. It’s vital to remain out of jail if possible post-arrest. Talk to us if you are arrested on drug charges in Texas. Call us at (214) 720-9552.