Deramus Lemuel spent his final waking moments face-down on a concrete cell floor, restrained by El Paso County jail staff, according to an autopsy report released by the Coroner’s Office this week.
Hours earlier on July 31, the 38-year-old Colorado Springs resident was arrested at a liquor store on suspicion of a parole violation and ingested a small bag of meth and other illicit drugs to conceal them. His family has spent more than two months trying to determine what happened in the four days that followed his arrest that left him comatose in a bed at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central until he died on Aug. 14.
The Coroner’s Office has attributed his death to complications that occurred after his brain was without oxygen when he went into cardiac arrest while high on drugs and held down by law enforcement officers.
The 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the case to see if criminal charges against jail staff or anyone else are warranted, District Attorney spokeswoman Lee Richards confirmed.
The coroner ruled Lemuel’s death a homicide, noting in the autopsy that the ruling does not “imply intent or wrongdoing by law enforcement officers.” Per the national guidelines followed by the office, Lemuel’s death was ruled a homicide because law enforcement officers were in physical contact with him when he went into cardiac arrest, said Dr. Leon Kelly of the Coroner’s Office.
But Deramus’ mother, Marva Lemuel, still believes her son’s death could have been prevented.
“When we see the ruling the death — manner of death homicide — that woke us up,” said Marva Lemuel, who has retained an attorney. “I want justice. His wife wants justice.”
Jackie Kirby, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, didn’t know how many jail staff were involved or how they restrained Lemuel. She said the Sheriff’s Office has investigated the circumstances of Lemuel’s medical episode.
When Lemuel did not cooperate with jail staff, they had to physically restrain him to change him from his civilian clothes into an inmate uniform and remove a pair of handcuffs, Kirby said. After he tried to spit at jailers, they put a hood over his face — a routine practice to shield jail staff from bodily fluids.
She declined to provide further information, citing the pending review by the District Attorney’s Office.
The autopsy states Lemuel suffered from high blood pressure — also believed to be a factor in his death — and had a “history of cigarette smoking, anxiety, and illicit drug use.”
His body had some injuries, including bruising on his ribs and scabs on one of his ears, his right leg and his ankle, according to the report.
“Nothing makes sense,” said Lemuel’s wife, Elizabeth. “That’s all I want to know — what happened? Why was it taken to the extreme?”
Deramus Lemuel, a graduate of Harrison High School, had four children with Elizabeth, including an 8-month-old daughter. He worked odd jobs, such as cleaning and construction, and lived with his wife on Colorado Springs’ south side.
Lemuel has several conviction since the late 1990s — third-degree assault, theft, driving under the influence and menacing.
Despite his past run-ins with the law, his mother said he wasn’t a violent or confrontational person.
“If trouble came his way, he’d always just go the other way,” Marva Lemuel said. “That’s the type of person he was. That’s why it’s confusing.”
At the time of his death, he was on parole, serving time for identity theft and attempted escape from a community corrections or intensive supervision parole program. But Lemuel had not checked in with his parole officer and was wanted for absconding from parole, said Colorado Department of Corrections spokesman Mark Fairbairn.
He was arrested about 8:30 p.m. July 31 at Bourbon Box Liquors, 4399 Airport Road, and taken to Memorial Hospital to be medically cleared after he swallowed the bag of drugs, Fairbairn said.
Hospital records show that, at the time of his first hospital visit, he tested positive for methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, amphetamine and MDMA, according to the autopsy report.
Lemuel was then transported to the jail about 4 a.m. the following day, the report says.
Shortly after he arrived, jail staff escorted him to the cell and he became combative, refusing their commands and resisting as they tried to secure him. About 10 minutes after jailers brought him to the floor, they noticed he was unresponsive and not breathing, according to the report.
Attempts to revive him with CPR and a defibrillator were futile, and he was taken to the hospital. He never regained consciousness, the report states.
“I’m one of those moms that said, ‘that could never happened to me,’” Marva Lemuel said. “And all the sudden, out of the blue, it’s one of yours.”