The Sheriff’s Department in Collin County, Texas is going through some things. The murder of Marvin D. Scott, III while in the care of law enforcement continues to showcase how truly problematic the sheriff’s department is. In mid-March, police officers from the city of Allen arrested Mr. Scott for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana (really?) and because he was murmuring to himself. Mr. Scott suffered from schizophrenia and, given what happened, I’ll let you figure out his race. Instead of providing Mr. Scott with the help he needed, Allen PD took him to the Collin County Detention Center. Mr. Scott was still exhibiting signs of mental illness and, in response, officials used pepper spray, a taser, and chokeholds to restrain him. They also knelt on him and placed a spit mask over his face. Within four hours of his arrival at the center, Mr. Scott was dead.
Mr. Scott’s family has been treated shamefully. They weren’t notified of his death until three hours after he died and received the news by TEXT from the medical examiner. Can you imagine? The coldness of being informed of a loved one’s death via text takes my breath away. To add insult to injury, they don’t even know how he died since the video relating to Mr. Scott’s death hasn’t been released to the family. It will not be until the investigation, which Sheriff Skinner turned over to the Texas Rangers, is completed. This can take up to three months.
Seven officers involved in Mr. Scott’s death have been fired with an eighth one resigning but no arrests have been made. While this is a good first step, we cannot let up on the pressure. We must be relentless in our pursuit for justice since the wheels of our legal system are purposefully slow. Tatiana Jefferson was killed in October 2019 and her family still doesn’t have a trial date.
Skinner held a press conference which the family didn’t know about beforehand. When they tried to attend, they were turned away. Although he expressed his condolences to the family to the press (how gracious), Skinner walked right past them without speaking as they waited in the lobby. Mr. Scott’s family has held peaceful protests and vigils every night at the jail since his death. In response, Skinner put up fencing and spotlights around the detention center. He’s paying for this with our tax dollars and it’s unacceptable.
Skinner’s behavior is reprehensible but not terribly surprising. He’s not popular, even with his employees, and seems to have outdated beliefs that are extremely hurtful. For example, in a fundraising letter he sent out in February, Skinner asked for money in order to continue providing sexual assault programs for women and children. While these programs (whatever they are) are much needed, Skinner apparently believes that men don’t suffer sexual assault. He’s wrong. While the number of men sexually assaulted may be small (only 9%), they still need services and anyone truly wanting to serve all constituents would offer them. However, it’s clear from that letter and this situation that Skinner doesn’t care about all constituents. It’s worth noting that he ran unopposed in 2020 and is up for re-election in 2024. As of now, he still has no opponent.
If you’re wondering who oversees the sheriff’s office, that would be the Collin County Commissioners who, other than offering words of prayer for Mr. Scott and his family, didn’t mention the incident in their most recent meeting. County Judge Chris Hill did send out a statement though in which he shared the news that seven sheriff’s department officers had been “released.” Released. That’s an interesting word. Employees are usually said to have been let go, fired, or terminated. Released just doesn’t hold the same weight. I’m sure this isn’t the case (because we all know what an upstanding guy he is) but it almost sounds as if Hill doesn’t believe the officers should’ve been held accountable for the death of a vulnerable person in their care. His attitude doesn’t bode well for how the commissioners will handle the sheriff going forward. If seven employees were “released” from their employment with an eighth resigning, clearly there’s a problem with leadership and Skinner needs to go. I won’t be holding my breath waiting for the commissioners to do the right thing.
Mr. Scott never should’ve died and there were a number of problems with his arrest. First, many people self-medicate with marijuana and/or use it recreationally; it’s past time we decriminalize it in Texas. Fortunately, more than 40 bills have been filed this legislative session to reform marijuana laws — from medical use to decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of the drug for recreational use. Contact your state leaders and let them know you support these bills.
Second, law enforcement shouldn’t be dealing with mental health issues because they’re not qualified to do so. We need alternatives, like the CAHOOTS program in Oregon. CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) is a mobile crisis intervention program that’s been an alternative to police response for non-violent crises for nearly 30 years. CAHOOTS provides support for the Eugene Police Department by taking on many of the social service type calls. They provide initial contact and transport for people who are intoxicated, mentally ill or disoriented, as well as transport for necessary non-emergency medical care. This is something we can do in Collin County if only we have the will. Contact your mayors, police chiefs, and county commissioners to let them know that things need to change.