Boulder County Deputy Charged with Manslaughter Named in Dismissed 2011 Excessive Force Lawsuit
One of the deputies charged in the death of a man being transported to detox last year was one of four deputies named in an excessive force lawsuit in 2011, but the case was dismissed by a jury and the department did not take any disciplinary action as a result of the allegations.
Deputies James O’Brien, 49, and Adam Lunn, 36, are being charged with manslaughter in the 2018 death of Demetrius Shankling, 23.
According to an arrest affidavit, O’Brien and Lunn were on transport duties for the Addiction Recovery Center at 2:20 a.m. Sept. 9, when they were called by Boulder police to pick up Shankling and physically placed Shankling on his stomach with his hands behind his back on the floor of one of the transport van’s holding compartments.
According to the affidavit, Shankling is 6 feet tall but was placed into the passenger-side rear compartment, which is less than 5 feet in length. He was in the compartment for 16 minutes while he was transported to the Addiction Recovery Center, and was found unresponsive and not breathing when they arrived.
He was transported to Boulder Community Health’s Foothills Hospital and then transferred to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood on Sept. 12. He died on Oct. 6.
An autopsy report concluded Shankling died from “positional asphyxia with the combined toxic effects of ethanol and amphetamine contributing,” and the death was ruled a homicide.
O’Brien was also one of four deputies named in an excessive force lawsuit filed by a Boulder County Jail inmate, Robert Kirkland, in 2012.
In the lawsuit, Kirkland — who had been arrested on suspicion of harassment and disorderly conduct — alleged O’Brien and the other deputies slammed his left leg against his cell bunk, causing a fracture. He also alleged one of the deputies tried to stuff the deputy’s stocking cap down his throat.
The sheriff’s office disputed the allegations, saying there was no evidence an altercation took place.
The case went to trial, but an eight-person jury ruled in favor of the deputies and dismissed the case.
Boulder County sheriff’s Cmdr. Mike Wagner said O’Brien did not face any department discipline as a result of the accusations.
“There was no disciplinary action taken against any of our involved staff, including Deputy O’Brien,” Wagner wrote in an email.
Both O’Brien and Lunn were booked at the Boulder County Jail on Monday and were released on $25,000 personal recognizance bonds. They are now set for first appearances on Feb. 20, according to court records.
Both men have been on paid leave since Sept. 9, and will remain on leave pending an internal investigation.
Mitchell Byars: 303-473-1329, email@example.com or twitter.com/mitchellbyars