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Two Colorado deputies jailed for causing death of drunk man by squeezing him into van on his stomach


Two ex-Colorado cops were sentenced on Friday for killing a six-foot-tall drunk man on his 23rd birthday after cuffing him and shoving him into a five-foot-long van compartment to take him to detox.

Former Boulder County sheriff deputy James O’Brien was sentenced to six years followed by three years of parole. His partner in crime Adam Lunn was given three years in prison with another three on parole for the 2018 death of Demetrius Roy Shankling.

In a statement released Thursday Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said: ‘This entire incident is a tragedy to everyone involved, including Mr Shankling and his family, as well as these former deputies and their families. 

‘I’m sure of one thing, this death did not need to occur. I’m also sure these former deputies intended no harm. I am confident we took all the necessary steps for accountability and transparency during this process. We relied on the justice system for a just outcome, and we trust that outcome is the best it can be under a horrible and yet preventable situation. I am deeply saddened for everyone involved.’  

O'Brien was sentenced to six years in prison while Lunn (pictured) got three

Two ex-Colorado cops James O’Brien (left) and Adam Lunn (right) were sentenced on Friday for killing a six-foot-tall drunk man on his 23rd birthday after cuffing him and shoving him into a five-foot-long van compartment to take him to detox. O’Brien was sentenced to six years in prison while Lunn got three

Six-foot-tall Demetrius Roy Shankling (pictured) died after being crammed face-down into a five-foot-long van compartment for 16 minutes as cops drove him to a detox facility. An autopsy report showed Shankling died of suffocation because of his positioning and alcohol and amphetamine in his system were contributing factors

Six-foot-tall Demetrius Roy Shankling (pictured) died after being crammed face-down into a five-foot-long van compartment for 16 minutes as cops drove him to a detox facility. An autopsy report showed Shankling died of suffocation because of his positioning and alcohol and amphetamine in his system were contributing factors

O’Brien and Lunn were found guilty of manslaughter back in August after body camera footage and surveillance video from inside the van showed the moments leading up to Shankling’s death.

It showed the then-cops stumbling across an obviously intoxicated Shankling and his friend wandering around in the early hours of September 9, 2018, near Canyon Boulevard, Boulder.

Shankling sat on the ground insisting that he shouldn’t go to detox. ‘He’s fine,’ friends said in the background as Shankling told cops: ‘I live right there… I would love to just go home.’

‘Sir, we can’t do that,’ the officer responded.

As they started to handcuff him an upset Shankling said: ‘I’m not fighting anything… I’m not doing anything,’ to which a cop replied: ‘You talk big for a small kid, dude.’

Oddly enough, just moments later as the officers went to put Shankling in the van one said: ‘You’re a big, tall guy, okay. Don’t hit your head.’

Shankling can be seen sitting on a curb after getting drunk to celebrate his 23rd birthday. Less than an hour later, he would be dead

Shankling can be seen sitting on a curb after getting drunk to celebrate his 23rd birthday. Less than an hour later, he would be dead 

O'Brien (right) and Lunn (left) were found guilty of manslaughter back in August after body camera footage showed the moments leading up to Shankling's death

O’Brien (right) and Lunn (left) were found guilty of manslaughter back in August after body camera footage showed the moments leading up to Shankling’s death

Two officers, presumably O'Brien and Lunn, were recorded clearly struggling as they tried to close the van door. 'Hasta la vista, another satisfied customer,' someone was heard saying

Two officers, presumably O’Brien and Lunn, were recorded clearly struggling as they tried to close the van door. ‘Hasta la vista, another satisfied customer,’ someone was heard saying

The cops proceeded to put six-foot-tall Shankling into the less than five-foot-long van compartment headfirst and laying on his stomach.

Two officers, presumably O’Brien and Lunn, were recorded clearly struggling as they tried to close the van door. ‘Hasta la vista, another satisfied customer,’ someone was heard saying.

Shankling spent 16 minutes crammed into the space as deputies drove to the detox facility, investigators said, and security footage from inside the van showed the 23-year-old’s legs wedged against the inside of the door.

When they arrived at the facility and opened the van doors Shankling was unconscious and not breathing. He was rushed to the hospital and spent the next 27 days in a coma before passing.

An autopsy report revealed that Shankling's blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.352 at the time of his death, which is considered life-threatening

An autopsy report revealed that Shankling’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.352 at the time of his death, which is considered life-threatening

‘Holy s***! Holy f***ing s***!’ a cop was heard shouting after opening the van doors.

‘God dammit Demetrius wake up!’ he yelled as he pulled Shankling out of the van by his feet.

An autopsy report showed that Shankling died of suffocation because of his positioning in the van and determined that the alcohol and amphetamine in his system were contributing factors.

The report also noted that Shankling’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.352 at the time of his death, which is considered life-threatening. 

District Judge Norma Sierra (pictured) also sentenced both ex-cops to serve three years of mandatory parole after their jail time

District Judge Norma Sierra (pictured) also sentenced both ex-cops to serve three years of mandatory parole after their jail time

The county’s coroner classified the death as a homicide, saying Shankling had been placed ‘into this position by another person(s)’. 

Prosecutors told District Judge Norma Sierra during the trial that O’Brien and Lunn acted recklessly and didn’t utilize their training on positional asphyxia, according to Yahoo News.

Meanwhile, the defense argued that the now-convicted killers were working overtime that night and were not familiar with the van.  

Court records said that Shankling left a downtown Boulder bar around 2am on his 23rd birthday. Friends who left with him said they were helping him walk down the street when he fell or jumped into a bush.

Boulder police officers then approached the group. Lunn and O’Brien told investigators that they were called to take Shankling to a detox facility in a transport van.

The sheriff’s office was reportedly in charge of taking people to detox that weekend because students had recently returned to the University of Colorado and police wanted to keep their officers on patrol during a weekend of anticipated partying and intoxication. 



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