Two Boulder County Deputies Charged in Death Now Out at Sheriff’s Office

March 25, 2019

The two Boulder County Sheriff’s Office deputies charged with manslaughter in the death of a man they were transporting to detox in September are now no longer with the department.

Deputies James O’Brien, 49, and Adam Lunn, 37, were charged with manslaughter in the death of Demetrius Shankling, 23.

Both men were placed on paid administrative leave Sept. 9 as the sheriff’s office conducted an internal investigation into possible policy violations separate from the criminal investigation done by the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office.

Boulder County Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Mike Wagner said the internal investigation has concluded and said the employment of both O’Brien and Lunn ended Monday.

Wagner said he could not comment further on the case because it is a personnel matter.

O’Brien had been with the sheriff’s office since 1998 after being with the Morrison Police Department for two years before that. Lunn joined the sheriff’s office as a civilian crew boss in 2009 and was promoted to deputy in 2011.

As for the criminal case, both men remain free on personal recognizance bonds and are set both set for an arraignment hearing on May 10 .

According to an arrest affidavit, O’Brien and Lunn were working an extra shift doing 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 at the corner of Ninth Street and Canyon Boulevard.

Shankling was “cooperative but antagonistic” toward O’Brien and Lunn and resisted getting into the van. According to body camera and transport van surveillance footage, the two deputies physically placed Shankling on his stomach with his hands behind his back on the floor of one of the transport van’s holding compartments, which contain benches with seat belts.

Shankling is 6 feet tall but was placed into the passenger-side rear compartment, which is less than 5 feet in length, according to the affidavit. For Shankling to fit, his legs had to be lifted off the floor and the deputies pressed on the compartment door to get it shut, causing Shankling’s left leg to get wedged against the inside of the door, according to the affidavit.

Shankling was in the van for 16 minutes while he was transported to the Addiction Recovery Center. When the deputies arrived at the Addiction Recovery Center, they found Shankling unresponsive and not breathing.

He was transported to Boulder Community Health’s Foothills Hospital and then transferred to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood on Sept. 12. He died 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.

Both deputies had received training about not placing a person handcuffed behind their back on their stomachs due to the risk of positional asphyxia, according to the affidavit.

Mitchell Byars: 303-473-1329, byarsm@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/mitchellbyars