Texas Man Arrested for Weed Died After Officers Pepper-Sprayed Him and Put Him in a Spit Hood

Marvin Scott III's family said they were notified of his death via a text message from the medical examiner.
March 19, 2021, 7:57pm
A Texas man died after police arrested him and put him in a spit hood.
A Texas man died after police arrested him and put him in a spit hood. (Photo by Tim Ockenden - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

A Black man who’d been arrested on cannabis charges died after several detention officers restrained him, pepper-sprayed him, and cloaked his face in a “spit hood.” 

Marvin David Scott III apparently suffocated to death in Texas’ Collin County Detention Facility on Sunday hours after Allen police officers arrested him for carrying a cannabis joint, a prominent civil rights attorney representing his family, Lee Merritt, told the Dallas Morning News. Scott’s relatives believe the 26-year-old, who had a history of mental illness, was in crisis at the time he was detained. 

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Because of that, Scott should have been taken to a mental health facility, which officers had done during three prior arrests, Merritt told the Dallas Morning News.

The incident leading up to Scott’s in-custody death began when Allen police encountered him at a local outlet mall Sunday while responding to a disturbance call. They noticed he was acting erratically, Police Chief Brian Harvey said in a news release Thursday, and “were concerned for his safety due to the possible ingestion of drugs.” They asked for assistance from the Allen Fire Department. 

The nature of the alleged erratic behavior was unclear; the Dallas Morning News reported Scott had been taking medication and hadn’t experienced a psychotic break in over a year. Scott was initially taken by ambulance to a local hospital, and later released with a physician’s clearance, processed at the Allen Police Headquarters holding facility, and handed over to the custody of the Collin County Sheriff’s Office, Harvey said in the release.

Harvey’s statement didn’t mention anything about cannabis, but Scott ultimately was arrested by Allen police for possessing fewer than 2 ounces of weed, Capt. Nick Bristow, a spokesperson for the Collin County Sheriff’s Office, told VICE News. He had been sitting next to a rolled joint at the outlet mall, Merritt told the Dallas Morning News. 

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Once Scott was in the Collin County jail Sunday evening, he “exhibited some strange behavior” in the booking area, Sheriff Jim Skinner said during a press conference Friday. 

Seven detention officers tried to strap Scott to a bed in his cell, and successfully restrained his legs and one of his arms before he broke free, according to the Dallas Morning News. 

An officer used their knee to pin Scott’s arm down. Additionally, an officer held their finger on a pressure point below his jaw and forced his head upward in an apparent “pain compliance technique,” Merritt told the Dallas Morning News. But Scott continued to resist. So officers pepper-sprayed the man—who, according to Merritt, was asthmatic—and put a spit hood on him.

Scott became unresponsive around 10:22 p.m. while being placed on the restraint bed, Skinner said. Officers and nursing staff provided medical attention and called an ambulance so he could be taken to a local medical center. However, physicians pronounced him dead once he got there. He died around 11:30 p.m., Merritt told the Dallas Morning News.

The local medical examiner has not confirmed Scott’s cause of death, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Since the incident, Skinner’s office has placed seven detention employees—including a captain, a lieutenant, two sergeants, and three detention officers—on administrative leave. 

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The Texas Rangers are conducting an investigation into Scott’s death. The sheriff’s office has also launched a parallel internal affairs probe to determine if any policies were violated, Skinner said. 

“People are upset. The family is upset. The community is upset. I’m upset,” Skinner said during a press conference Friday. “The death of this young man is a profound tragedy, and we have an obligation to uncover the full and complete truth—firm, concrete, and factual information. And that’s exactly what the Texas Rangers and my internal affairs investigators are doing at this moment.” 

Harvey, Allen’s police chief, noted in a statement Thursday that the city of Allen and the Allen Police Department are cooperating with the Texas Rangers’ investigation as well. Harvey also said he met with Scott’s family this week. 

“When I asked how I could describe their son to our department and the Allen community, I learned that Marvin was a straight A student, a football player and generous to everyone around him,” Harvey said. 

Scott’s death comes almost a year after Rochester, New York, police officers restrained Daniel Prude, another Black man with a history of mental illness, and covered his head in a spit hood. Prude died a week later, but body camera footage from the police encounter was not released until September. 

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Spit hoods are supposed to make it more difficult for a person to spit at or bite officers and first responders. But there isn’t a uniform, nationwide policy on how they’re to be used, according to CNN, and some critics see the hoods as inhumane. 

When VICE News asked Bristow if the Collin County Sheriff’s Office had a spit hood policy and, if so, whether it was being reconsidered, Bristow said: “The use of the spit hood will be reviewed during the criminal and administrative investigations.”

Family members said they were notified about Scott’s death via a text message from the medical examiner, according to KXAS-TV, a local NBC affiliate. In an email to VICE News, William Rohr, the medical examiner for Collin County, said the text had asked the family to call them regarding Scott without actually stating that he was dead following several attempts to reach the family through the hospital and the Texas Rangers. 

“Of course, the natural inference would be when reading the message from the Medical Examiner’s Office is that he had passed away,” Rohr said. “There was immediate response by the family after reading the text.”

The Allen Police Department and Merritt did not immediately respond to VICE News’ requests for comment.