Author: Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.
Molly Sullivan and Sam Stanton The Sacramento Bee
In a major change in policy, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department announced Monday it will begin releasing videos of officer-involved shootings and other critical incidents involving its deputies.
The move, which came on the eve of what was expected to be a contentious public hearing about the sheriff before the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, was accompanied by the release of video showing the events preceding the death of Marshall Miles, an unarmed 36-year-old black man who was arrested Oct. 28 and fell into a coma in the jail after struggling with deputies during booking.
Miles died in a hospital Nov. 1, and sheriff’s officials on Monday released a compilation of closed circuit security camera, in-car camera and hand-held camera footage, the first time the department has released video of a critical incident.
The videos tracks Miles from when he is first reported jumping on cars and creating a disturbance in North Highlands to when he becomes unresponsive in the Sacramento County Jail, where he ends up motionless on the floor of a cell after prolonged struggles with deputies.
The release of the videos comes after months of pressure on Sheriff Scott Jones, who has previously refused to release footage of officer-involved shootings and other incidents, and who waged a successful campaign to shut down the county inspector general’s efforts to provide oversight of such events.
Jones responded angrily to the August release of a report by Inspector General Rick Braziel that raised questions about the May 2017 shooting by deputies of Mikel McIntyre, an unarmed, emotionally disturbed black man who was shot to death along Highway 50 in Rancho Cordova after throwing rocks at deputies.
Jones locked Braziel out of the sheriff’s office following that report, and the dispute created a political firestorm over how much oversight the Board of Supervisors should hold over the independently elected sheriff.
Jones has criticized Braziel, Supervisor Phil Serna and The Sacramento Bee over the ensuing controversy, and Sunday he took to Facebook to exhort supporters to attend the 2 p.m. supervisors meeting.
“This is important–regardless of what they are telling you, they are trying to vest control of the Sheriff’s Department in politicians and control how the Sheriff’s Department is run,” wrote Jones, who was re-elected this year to a third term in office. “You won’t hear them give any examples of what we’re not doing well; we have reduced crime more than anyone, are the most technologically advanced, racially diverse, and community engaged department in the region. But they cannot control an elected Sheriff and THAT is what they are fighting.”
The sheriff also assured supporters they would be safe if they chose to attend.
“I will have PLENTY of deputies to keep everyone safe; don’t let them bully you,” he wrote.
Jones gave no hint in his post that the department planned a change in policy, nor that it would release such a large amount of information regarding Miles’ death.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Shaun Hampton said the release was part of a policy the department has yet to finalize but that it has been working on for months.
“The is the direction the sheriff’s department is moving in the future,” he said, adding that the department plans to release all video in major use-of-force incidents, officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. Hampton said the video release comprises all the video they have of the Miles incident, including security camera footage from businesses.
Miles was arrested after multiple 911 callers reported him behaving erratically, running into traffic and jumping on cars in the area of Watt Avenue and A Street in North Highlands. He was taken into custody by the California Highway Patrol and taken to the Sacramento County Main Jail in a sheriff’s department patrol vehicle. The in-car camera shows Miles speaking rapidly and breathing heavily.
When Miles arrives at the jail, a security camera shows him falling to his knees and he appears to struggle with officers near the door, but a cement pillar obstructs the camera’s view of Miles as deputies surround him.
The footage in one 46-minute edited segment provided by the department then shows a scene shot by a hand-held camera in which officers put restraints on Miles and carry him by his arms and legs, telling him to stop struggling. At one point, 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. The deputies then decide they will not be able to control him long enough for a booking photo. Instead, he is carried to a cell where at least five officers surround him as he is placed face down on the floor while they work to release him from his restraints.
“Quit bumping your hips, just lay there, chill out,” a deputy yells at Miles. “We’re almost done.”
The deputies continue to give Miles orders not to struggle as they unlock his cuffs and then back out of the cell. As they leave, and before as they release the restraints, Miles is motionless and silent.
The video at that point switches from the hand-held camera a deputy was using to a cell surveillance camera.
Hampton notes on the video narration that “seconds later” a sergeant noticed Miles appeared to have stopped breathing. The video appears to show a 39-second lapse of time from when the cell door originally was closed to when deputies rush back in to check on the inmate, who remained motionless, face down and silent the entire time.
Deputies subsequently begin CPR and administer shocks from a defibrillator until paramedics arrive and try to revive Miles further.
Miles died in an area hospital on Nov. 1, and preliminary results from the Sacramento County coroner’s office indicated he had methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana in his system at the time of the incident, the sheriff’s department said.
A final report and cause of death has not yet been released.
The video release marks the most extensive move to date by sheriff’s officials to provide transparency about a major incident involving deputies.
“I don’t think we’re at a place where we can believe the credibility of them implementing this policy when they were recently locking out the inspector general and saying they were accountable to themselves,” said Les Simmons, board member for Sacramento Area Congregations Together and member of the Build Black coalition.
Hampton said the department is in the process of purchasing redaction software and additional software to allow for more public video releases.
Hampton said he is not sure what the exact policy will be, and did not want to compare it to the one followed by the Sacramento Police Department, which now releases as a matter of routine all video in officer-involved shootings and other major incidents.
Hampton said Jones wants to develop “our own policy that works for our community and for our organization and does the best portrayal of the incident as they took place so the community has the ability to have an understanding, and obviously an education component, for what we deal with and how we handle certain complex incidents.”
Miles’ family could not immediately be reached for comment.
©2018 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)