Sheriff’s department cameras capture last minutes of Marshall Miles life while in custody
Marshall Miles’ family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging the deputies who subdued the Sacramento man inside the county’s jail last October ignored his cries that he could not breathe, suffocated Miles until he lost consciousness then left him to lay face down and alone in his cell before seeking help.
Three days later, on Nov. 1, Miles was pronounced dead at a Sacramento hospital. He was 36.
The hours that led to Miles’ death days after his arrest on vandalism and intoxication charges after a bizarre episode October in the parking lot of a North Highlands gas station are at the heart of the family’s legal action against Sacramento County and Sheriff Scott Jones.
As Miles’ family and their legal counsel gathered at Sacramento County Main Jail on Tuesday for a news conference to detail their claims, the 18-page civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit filed late Monday in Sacramento federal court brought the allegations into focus: a “course of conduct” by law enforcement that led to Miles’ sudden death.
The suit by Los Angeles attorneys Jeremy Lessem and Jamal Tooson filed on behalf of Miles’ family calls for a jury trial and seeks unspecified damages. Sacramento County officials declined comment Tuesday saying only they were aware of the lawsuit but had not yet received the filing.
“Throughout that evening, he repeatedly told officers ‘I cannot breathe, I cannot breathe, I cannot breathe.’ Yet, not one officer attended to his medical needs,” Tooson said outside the jail. “It is our belief that at the hands of the officers’ unlawful force, he died,” Tooson continued. “He was dead by the time he arrived to the hospital. This was preventable.”
The allegations include that jail deputies used illegal, excessive force against Miles and purposely failed to tell medical personnel that they had applied force to Miles when he lost consciousness. The deputies “behaved in a manner that was excessive, illegal and inhumane and by acting in this fashion, caused the death of Marshall Miles,” the suit read.
Attorneys in the suit allege Miles was treated roughly by California Highway Patrol officers during the arrest and was agitated at the downtown lockup when jail deputies and the arresting CHP officers pinned him to the ground face down on his stomach. Several other jailers, the lawsuit alleged, shackled Miles’ ankles and wrists together behind his back.
It was the first time, attorneys allege, that Miles told deputies he could not breathe.
The hogtied Miles was then carried by four deputies to a holding cell. Attorneys say Miles called out that he couldn’t breathe, but was again ignored.
Instead, Miles was placed face down on the jail cell floor by the four deputies, who held him down with their knees, pressing down on his head, neck, back and legs with their full weight.
“While this force was being applied, Mr. Miles stopped breathing and lost consciousness,” the lawsuit read.
Attorneys say deputies did not notice he had stopped breathing even as they continued to apply force while yet more deputies removed Miles’ shackles.
“Marshall Miles laid lifeless on the concrete floor of the holding cell without moving, in full view of numerous attending officers and other law enforcement and medical personnel for approximately one full minute,” attorneys allege in the federal lawsuit. “When law enforcement personnel finally decided to reenter his cell it was already too late.”
Miles was taken to Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, but never regained consciousness.
Early Oct. 29 – 12:28 a.m. – doctors at Sutter Medical Center performed a CT scan that found “findings consistent with global hypoxic anoxic injury,” a partial or total lack of oxygen to the brain, according to a diagnostic imaging report by Sutter Health physicians signed at 12:39 a.m., and transcribed the following day, Oct. 30.
Attorneys allege the injury was caused by suffocation – Miles’ brain had been starved of oxygen while at the county jail, they said.
The report was contained in Miles’ court record and obtained by The Bee.
“We’ve been in shock. We still can’t believe this happened to my brother and our family. Maureen Miles, Miles’ sister, said Tuesday. “And we still can’t believe that the sheriff’s department still hasn’t reached out with an apology or said anything about any of this to us.”
Miles had been arrested just hours earlier, about 8:25 p.m., at Watt Avenue and A Street in North Highlands. A married father of two children, a boy and girl, he also took care of his recently widowed mother, according to the suit.
But he was behaving erratically that night, jumping on car hoods and ripping out windshield wipers, sheriff’s officials said. One woman called from a nearby convenience store to say Miles had attempted to grab her while she was holding money. Miles was unarmed.
Preliminary results from the Sacramento County coroner’s office would show Miles had methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana in his system at the time of the incident, the sheriff’s department said. Deputies would later say Miles was uncooperative and “struggled with Sheriff’s department personnel as he was escorted through the booking process.”
The death of Miles, who is African American, in sheriff’s custody sparked protest and prompted a major shift in department policy.
In December, weeks after Miles’ death, sheriff’s officials for the first time released video of a critical incident. Jones had previously won a showdown with the county’s inspector general, former Sacramento police chief Rick Braziel, effectively shutting down the IG’s efforts to provide oversight of officer-involved shootings and in-custody incidents.
The compilation video released a day ahead of what was predicted to be a heated public hearing about Jones before the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors summarized the hours from the initial report of Miles’ jumping onto cars on Watt Avenue to Miles’ final moments prone on the floor of a county jail cell.
At one point on the video, Miles yells, “I cannot breathe,” and at another he shouts “Give me some air.”
“You’re breathing fine,” a deputy replies as officers struggle to subdue him. The deputies ultimately hogtie his ankles and wrists together behind his back. Miles continues to struggle as deputies carry him into the jail.
Minutes later, Miles lay unconscious.