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Inmate's death ruled as a suicide

Posted at 5:41 PM, Dec 31, 2019
and last updated 2020-01-01 05:27:00-05

LANSING, Mich. — After an external investigation into the death of Marquis Oliver, Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wrigglesworth said the death has been ruled as a suicide.

"This is a very difficult time for the Oliver family as well as many members of the sheriff's office that were involved in the incident," Sheriff Wrigglesworth said.

Michigan State Police took over the investigation into how Oliver was able to get out of his chains and jump out of the van.

After reviewing the investigation, prosecutors chose not to charge the deputies involved with Oliver's transportation.

The investigation showed Oliver was restrained by three different corrections deputies prior to his transport to the courthouse, but was somehow able to maneuver his chain in order to have full motion of his arms.

"One member of the sheriff's office was formally reprimanded for a code of conduct violation in connection for failing to perform basic duties when servicing the van," Wriggelsworth told Fox 47.

According to statements from deputies and other inmates in the van, Oliver was seated by himself in the second row and was able to slip out of his belly chains. Witnesses say he reached past a security barrier to unlock and open the door.

The deputy driving the van said everything happened all at once.

The deputy told investigators swearing could be heard from the back of the van during the incident. The deputy heard chains rattling at the same time that the dashboard panel's light came on, saying the door was ajar.

The deputy's written statement says, "The van door opened and wind rushed in," and Oliver could be seen standing in the open van doorway before stepping out of the moving van onto U.S. 127.

The deputy pulled the van over to the side of the highway, radioed for help, and then stayed with the van while waiting for assistance.

The coroner ruled Oliver's death a suicide due to blunt force trauma to the head.

He was not hit by any other vehicles.

The internal investigation done by the Ingham County Sheriff's Office discovered the van had major security flaws.

Ingham County transport van 45 had been bought from a dealership in Owosso and came without a "police package" with door handles disengaged.

Wriggelsworth said features in the van weren't quite right. The van was made for dual transport, which means it can be used to move inmates around, or carry deputies to big events.

Unlike other transport vans, it didn't have a steel cage blocking the door handle from inmates, and the handle was not supposed to work from the inside.

However, Wrigglesworth said the van was modified with two steel barricades just two weeks before Oliver's death, but the door handles had not been modified.

Wriggelsworth said no one in the sheriff's office checked to see if the door handles worked from the inside.

"Of course there'd be a chance to check it before... it had yet been used in service yesterday (Wednesday, Oct. 23), but again those doors (that) are in patrol cars are disengaged and all our other vans were built differently so you couldn't access that handle," Wriggelsworth told Fox 47 during the early stages of the investigation. "If I could go back to yesterday morning, I'd had that handle disengaged, but unfortunately it wasn't. It was supposed to not be engaged and ultimately that would be my responsibility as Sheriff."

During Tuesday's press conference, Wrigglesworth said that Oliver's death was a "lesson learned."

He said the Sheriff's Office took away three lessons they will approach differently in the future.

The first being "exploring options for restraining inmates in belly chains and leg restraints that take into account diverse body styles," secondly "policy revisions that establish accountability while affording discretion necessary to effectively restrain and transport subjects," and finally "vehicle in servicing that ensures required equipment/supplies added, certain features removed/disabled."

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