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Marvin Booker died while in custody, and following the official investigation, his death was ruled a homicide. Booker died in a well-lit room in full view of inmates and workers. Cameras recorded it. But the administration and DAs won’t release those images, citing the ongoing probe. Even with videos, consistent witness accounts and a homicide ruling, the five jail employees involved in the investigation are on a third week of paid leave, after remaining on duty with pay for almost six weeks following the murder.

When Booker died in July, relatives flew to Denver from Memphis where one brother is a minister and his father a former pastor. They came a month later to march on the city, demanding to know which deputies had restrained and Tasered Booker. About 20 returned last week to meet with the Denver Mayor. But Councilman Michael Hancock is cautioning the family and civil rights advocates not to jump to conclusions by assuming that deputies overreacted when they zapped and killed the homeless preacher who was being booked on a nonviolent drug charge.

This hesitation to accuse jail employees would be easier to understand if this was a single isolated event. But deaths while in custody are not unusual. While most are ruled suicides, some are the result of brutality, such as Booker’s death, and others as a result of negligence.

We recently handled a Colorado case where the Colorado State Patrol arrested Terrance Jorenby for a number of driving related infractions, including DUI, and transported him to the jail in Georgetown, Colorado, where the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office then took custody and control of Mr. Jorenby. The control technician charged with watching the video monitors in the three holding cells at the jail, wholly failed to do so. the videotape clearly shows, Mr. Jorenby tried unsuccessfully four times to hang the telephone cord around his neck and strangle himself after he was told that he could not have his psychiatric prescription anxiety and anti-depressant medication (Lexapro and Klonopin). He did hang himself on his fifth attempt, and he remained hanging with the cord around his neck for at least 15 minutes before he was finally observed on the monitors. Evidence suggested a major professional football game playing at the time of the suicides of attempts may have diverted the attention of jail employees. Ultimately, a confidential settlement reached for the widow.

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