Trial for two former Boulder County deputies pushed back to April

James O’Brien, Adam Lunn set for trial on manslaughter charges

Former Boulder County Sheriff’s deputies Jim O’Brien, left, and Adam Lunn walk out of the courtroom after their arraignment hearing on June 28, 2019, at the Boulder County Justice Center in Boulder.
Former Boulder County Sheriff’s deputies Jim O’Brien, left, and Adam Lunn walk out of the courtroom after their arraignment hearing on June 28, 2019, at the Boulder County Justice Center in Boulder.
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The trial for two former Boulder County Sheriff’s Office deputies charged with killing a man by placing him in a confined space on his stomach while transporting him to detox has been pushed back to April.

James O’Brien, 50, and Adam Lunn, 37, were both set to begin trial today on manslaughter charges, but the trial has now been reset to begin on April 20.

Both men remain out of custody on personal recognizance bonds.

According to an arrest affidavit, O’Brien and Lunn were working an extra shift doing transport duties for the Addiction Recovery Center at 2:20 a.m. Sept. 9, 2018, when they were called by Boulder police to pick up Shankling at the corner of Ninth Street and Canyon Boulevard.

Shankling was “cooperative but antagonistic” toward O’Brien and Lunn and resisted getting into the van. According to body camera and transport van surveillance footage, the two deputies physically placed Shankling on his stomach with his hands behind his back on the floor of one of the transport van’s holding compartments, which contain benches with seat belts.

Shankling is 6 feet tall but was placed into the passenger-side rear compartment, which is less than 5 feet in length, according to the affidavit. For Shankling to fit, his legs had to be lifted off the floor and the deputies pressed on the compartment door to get it shut, causing Shankling’s left leg to get wedged against the inside of the door, according to the affidavit.

Shankling was in the van for 16 minutes while he was transported to the Addiction Recovery Center. When the deputies arrived at the Addiction Recovery Center, they found Shankling unresponsive and not breathing.

He was transported to Boulder Community Health’s Foothills Hospital and then transferred to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood on Sept. 12, 2018. He died Oct. 6, 2018.

An autopsy report concluded Shankling died from “positional asphyxia with the combined toxic effects of ethanol and amphetamine contributing,” and the death was ruled a homicide.

Both deputies had received training about not placing a person handcuffed behind their back on their stomachs due to the risk of positional asphyxia, according to the affidavit.

Both deputies were initially placed on administrative leave in September 2018 following the incident, but after the internal investigation their employment with the sheriff’s office ended in March.

O’Brien had been with the sheriff’s office since 1998; he was with the Morrison Police Department for two years prior. Lunn joined the sheriff’s office as a civilian crew boss in 2009 and was promoted to deputy in 2011.