Securing charges against fired Collin County detention officers may be difficult, legal expert says

A day after the Collin County medical examiner ruled that the death of a 26-year-old man while in custody was the result of homicide, FOX 4 is learning why prosecutors may still have a difficult time securing an indictment against the detention officers.

Even though the sheriff fired multiple detention officers for how they handled Marvin Scott III, a legal expert in this type of case says when it comes to criminal responsibility it is more complicated.

While Scott’s family and friends are calling for the immediate arrest of several jailers who restrained him, one legal expert says the investigation will be more drawn out and likely end up with a grand jury.

Defense attorney Toby Shook is a former prosecutor, known most recently for representing former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger.

"I think it will be harder for prosecutors to get an indictment in this case," he said. "Not saying they can't, I just think it will be harder."

Scott was arrested on March 14 in Allen for marijuana possession. Police took him to a hospital for erratic behavior. Doctors there cleared Scott, a diagnosed schizophrenic, for detention in the Collin County jail.

Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner said officers began to try to restrain him after he began acting strangely.

When it comes to in-custody deaths, Shook has been on both sides of the equation.

"The argument for indicting the officers would be that their actions were extremely unreasonable," Shook said. "Either intentionally or recklessly or through criminal negligence caused the victim's death. Negligently."

Scott died after an hours-long restraint process involving mace and a spit mask. His family and legal representative were allowed to watch five hours of jail video privately on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, the medical examiner concluded Scott's death was due to extreme stress.

"Since doctors at a hospital cleared his detention, they will say, ‘We were using reasonable force. And due to his medical condition, it led to his death. And we shouldn't be held criminally responsible,’" Shook said.

The sheriff fired seven officers, and an eighth resigned.

But shook says while jail protocols may have been violated, the bar for criminal culpability is much higher. He points out that while the manner of Scott's death is listed as a homicide, the cause of death is more consequential.

"The cause of death is the important thing," he said. "That will be carefully explained to the grand jury."

Shook says the hospital could be held civilly responsible.

FOX 4 reached out to Texas Health about why doctors released Scott. A spokesman said they could not comment, citing privacy laws. 

Shook says the police department, county and officers themselves could also be held liable from a civil standpoint.