On Sunday, Marvin Scott III was arrested for marijuana possession. Soon after, he died in custody at the Collin County Detention Facility, and seven detention employees were placed on administrative leave.
Scott was a 26-year-old Black man from Frisco whose family says he was diagnosed as having schizophrenia and was in crisis. Attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing the family, said Scott was “restrained to death.”
“Mr. Scott should have never been arrested,” Merritt told the Observer. “The problem is he was suffering a mental health crisis; he needed mental health eval[uation] at a mental health facility.”
Allen police arrested Scott outside an outlet mall after he was found with a joint, Merritt said. They recognized he was in crisis and took him to a hospital, and workers there checked his vitals and gave the green light for him to be taken to the jail.
The Observer has requested a copy of Scott’s arrest affidavit, but had not received it at time of publication.
At the jail, officers placed Scott in the general population where he shared a cell with eight other men, Merritt said. When he began experiencing the “ups and downs of schizophrenia,” they isolated him.
Officers feared Scott might self-harm, so they moved to strap him down, Merritt said. But because of his mental state, Scott resisted, which police combatted with pepper spray and chokeholds. They also knelt on his arm to strap it down.
Merritt said a preliminary autopsy shows Scott died from an enlarged heart, which “combusted” from the “violent, brutal assault.”
“They should have been working on transferring him because he didn’t belong in that jail,” he said. “Their failure to do that is not only a policy violation; it is a crime.”
An Allen police spokesman said the department is working with the Texas Rangers on the investigation and cannot release information unless it’s cleared by the lead investigator. The Rangers declined to comment further. The Collin County district attorney’s office did not return a request for comment.
Scott's family has created a GoFundMe to help cover funeral costs. Donations will also go toward flying his body home to St. Louis.
Details on Scott’s case are still emerging, but his story draws parallels to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Floyd’s death last May sparked a surge in Black Lives Matter protests and advocates amplified calls for criminal justice reform.
Many activists have pushed to defund the police, which would redirect some resources toward social workers who are better equipped to help people in crisis. Merritt said police failed when they took Scott to jail instead of an appropriate facility.
Scott’s family is “distraught” by his death, Merritt said.
Merritt has represented the families of other high-profile cases involving police killings of Black North Texans, including that of Botham Jean, who was fatally shot in his home by former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger. Merritt also represented the family of Darius Tarver, a University of North Texas student killed by Denton police while experiencing a mental health crisis.
North Texans took to social media to mourn Scott’s death, including former Democratic candidate for Congressional District 24 Candace Valenzuela.
“Marvin Scott III was 26 years old,” Valenzuela said in a tweet. “I'm running out of ways to say that this is devastating, that the system needs to change, that no amount of weed or mental illness or melanin is punishable by death. I'm praying for his loved ones.”
Marvin Scott III was 26 years old. I'm running out of ways to say that this is devastating, that the system needs to change, that no amount of weed or mental illness or melanin is punishable by death. I'm praying for his loved ones. https://t.co/ms4JNda2Dj— Candace Valenzuela (@candacefor24) March 17, 2021
Community advocate and former Frisco City Council candidate Hava Johnston told the Observer that Scott’s death is an example of systemic racism. Collin County jail has a bad reputation of being the worst detention center in North Texas, she said.
Johnston wasn’t surprised when she learned of Scott’s death.
“It happens to people just like this guy every day, they just don’t die,” she said. “But they could, and their lives are ruined in many other ways.”
Some advocacy groups also called out for marijuana reform, including Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. On Facebook, the organization said Scott shouldn’t have been in jail to begin with.
Scott’s case is a reminder of the “unnecessary damage and suffering that marijuana criminalization has on society," said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project.
“We know that a majority of Texans support decriminalizing marijuana, and it’s time for politicians in Austin to listen to them,” Schweich said.
Gov. Greg Abbott has made expanding mental health support to Texans a top priority this legislative session. So far, he’s stayed mum on marijuana decriminalization.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton should issue directives to North Texas law enforcement so they can understand how to treat people in crisis, Merritt said. Scott had a disability and was “brutally beaten for his disability” in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said.
Merritt’s also calling for the arrest of the seven officers.
“Marvin should have simply been helped,” Merritt said, “but he was helped to death instead.”
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