When Michael Scurlock’s sisters think about their late brother, they prefer to remember him as he was — strumming the guitar and singing along to the Eagles, quoting Scripture at a moment’s notice, or fixing virtually anything.
They prefer to remember him riding his bicycle through his hometown of Dickinson, where friendly neighbors often threw odd jobs his way, like tinkering with broken electronics or overheated car engines.
They prefer to remember their brother’s life before February 2022, when a Dickinson police officer threw Scurlock to the ground, causing a traumatic brain injury that jail staff left untreated for nearly 24 hours. Scurlock never recovered from the episode, spending his final 10 months of life unable to speak clearly or feed himself.
“There was no humanity there,” said Stella Belisle, one of Scurlock’s six siblings. “What (police) did to my brother, they would not do to a stray dog.”
Now, nearly a year after his death, Scurlock’s family members are calling for prosecutors to bring criminal charges against the Dickinson Police Department employees involved in his case, as well as the appointment of an independent committee to oversee the agency. The comments come one week after the Houston Landing published previously unreleased body camera and jail surveillance videos from the encounter — footage that Scurlock’s relatives had never seen before.
“I just want justice,” said Maryann Scurlock Ainsworth, one of Scurlock’s sisters. “I want those guys gone. Put them in prison. Don’t let them walk the streets. Get them off the force. They’re here to serve, not to kill.”
The Galveston County District Attorney’s Office has confirmed it is reviewing a private investigator’s report on the episode for potential criminal charges but declined further comment.
The family’s fury stems in part from video showing Dickinson Police Officer Michael Kinsley tossing the 65-year-old onto the ground while investigating a minor bike crash involving Scurlock, causing his body to go limp for nearly three minutes. Additional footage from the Dickinson jail shows Scurlock vomiting, stumbling and repeatedly crying out for help in the subsequent 24 hours.
Dickinson authorities ultimately drove Scurlock home, where one of his sisters found him the next day bleeding from his nose and mouth, his face purple and swollen.
Scurlock spent two weeks in the intensive care unit with a brain bleed, followed by nearly a year in hospitals and nursing homes. Belisle said her brother could not walk, hold a fork or spoon, or swallow food without choking after his injury. Scurlock had to wear a diaper, his speech sometimes was slurred and his arm would shake out of control, she said.
He was often confused, Belisle said, but during moments of lucidity, he told his siblings the police “beat” him.
“All of these problems came with the head trauma,” Belisle said in a text message.
Scurlock’s death certificate lists Parkinson’s disease as the cause of death. Belisle, a retired nurse, said Scurlock had never shown signs of Parkinson’s disease prior to his arrest.
An independent private investigator’s report on the Scurlock case, commissioned by the Dickinson City Council after a whistleblower came forward, detailed extensive misconduct involving officials throughout the police department.
The private investigator concluded that Kinsley unnecessarily escalated the encounter; jail staff neglected to get Scurlock medical help; a former internal affairs lieutenant conducted a “flawed and biased” inquiry; and then-police chief Ron Morales was “untruthful” in his communications with city officials about Scurlock’s arrest.
Efforts to reach Kinsley were unsuccessful Monday.
The city-commissioned private investigator, retired Austin Police Department detective Jesse Prado, wrote in a report that Kinsley defended his takedown of Scurlock, which stemmed from Scurlock not following orders during the bike crash investigation.
Prado, who also interviewed Morales, reported that Morales did not raise concerns with his department’s handling of the Scurlock case. The investigator did not interview Frank Price, the internal affairs lieutenant, who was laid off last year for reasons unrelated to Scurlock and subsequently filed a wrongful termination lawsuit that remains pending.
Much talk, minimal action?
The Scurlock case has prompted anger and outrage among some leaders of Dickinson, home to about 22,000 residents in northern Galveston County. Multiple city officials, including Mayor Sean Skipworth, blasted police employees for their actions in interviews with the Landing last week.
Whether the Scurlock family’s calls will be met with action, however, remains unclear.
The Galveston County District Attorney has not released a timeline for a decision on potential charges.
In the meantime, Dickinson officials have said police employees will not face internal discipline, citing policies in the city’s contract with officers that limit the time period for issuing discipline. No officers were punished following an internal affairs investigation last year. In his report, Prado blasted the inquiry as woefully incomplete, noting that Price only interviewed one witness: Kinsley.
Kinsley has since been promoted to sergeant. New Dickinson Police Chief Michael Berezin, who took over in June, said earlier this month that Kinsley is doing a “spectacular job” in his new role.
Similarly, city officials have not created more independent oversight of the department, as Scurlock’s family has requested. Skipworth and City Manager Theo Melancon have delivered votes of confidence in Berezin this month for addressing past issues in the department. Skipworth said Monday that he doesn’t believe the department needs independent oversight.
Berezin said Monday that he has taken broad steps to improve operations of the department, but he hasn’t made changes in direct response to the Scurlock case. Berezin said he has not reviewed Scurlock’s case “in-depth” because the Galveston District Attorney’s Office is reviewing it.
Berezin declined to comment on whether Dicksinon police should be subject to independent oversight.
“What I have done is try to make sure this department is professional moving forward,” Berezin said. “I’m going through the entire department and making sure that we’re doing things a whole lot better than they were done before.”
Neither Skipworth nor Berezin have spoken with members of Scurlock’s family, though both said they would be open to a conversation.
‘Needs to be exposed’
Scurlock’s relatives said they have been heartened by the community’s outpouring of affection and concern over the past two years. While Scurlock struggled with alcohol and was known to pass time panhandling outside the local Walgreens, his quick wit and willingness to lend a helping hand endeared him to local residents.
When Scurlock was in the hospital, neighbors wrote Facebook messages to Scurlock’s relatives, describing him as a “kind soul” who was “loved by many.” One neighbor reminisced about how Scurlock had prayed for her family in Spanish, while another asked if he could take visitors.
“He was very funny, and so people gravitated to him and probably took care of him,” Belisle said.
He wasn’t perfect, his family acknowledged. But he wasn’t alone.
“He did have a family, and we did love him,” Belisle said.
However, Scurlock’s siblings said they believe Dickinson police viewed their brother as a transient who didn’t add value to the community. They’re speaking out now, they said, to counter that narrative and shed light on the wrongdoing around their brother’s death.
“All the crookedness needs to be exposed,” Ainsworth said. “It might help that town.”
Staff writer Monroe Trombly contributed to this report.