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Man dies in police custody after checking in to Dell Seton Medical Center

In World
April 16, 2024

Editor’s note: The above video shows KXAN News’ top morning headlines from Tuesday, April 16, 2024.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Holding his mother’s hand, 37-year-old Laison Crenshaw walked up to Dell Seton Medical Center seeking mental health treatment on Feb. 21. He was physically healthy, but after the onset of a mental health crisis he asked his mother, Ava Smith, to take him in for help.

Smith left her son at the hospital that evening, thinking the facility would be the safest place for him – not realizing she would never feel his grasp or hear his voice again.

Within hours, Laison would die in handcuffs following a physical altercation with a hospital security guard, according to a death report submitted by police with the University of Texas, where the facility is located.

How a seemingly healthy 37-year-old father died at a hospital within hours of voluntarily walking in for mental health care remains unclear. A statement provided by UT Austin leaves much to be explained. Now, state police are investigating.

KXAN investigates deaths in police custody and what information can be shared

Smith said she won’t stop trying to find out exactly what caused her son’s death. For years, he was troubled with mental illness, Smith acknowledged.

“He tried his best,” Smith said. “He just wanted a normal life.”

Crenshaw was born and raised in Austin, and he graduated from Akins High School, his family said. The family started a Gofundme page to help with the cost of cremation and support.

“He was a good father. He had feelings. He had a good heart. He wished his children goodnight,” Smith said.

man hugging two women

Laison Crenshaw, center, pictured with his sister Dee Dee Johnson, left, and mother, Ava Smith, right. Johnson and Smith say they are searching for answers that could better explain how Crenshaw died in police custody after voluntarily checking in to Dell Seton Medical Center on Feb. 21 for a mental health emergency. (Courtesy Dee Dee Johnson)

Deadly incident

UT police responded to a call for an assault on a private security officer at the hospital at 1:30 a.m., according to a custodial death report submitted to the Office of Attorney General by UT police.

Hospital officials released Laison into UTPD custody on Feb. 22, after he became “combative with medical staff and physically engaged with the hospital’s privately contracted security personnel,” according to a UT Austin statement.

Crenshaw resisted being put in handcuffs, and he was in handcuffs at the time leading up to his death. Crenshaw did not attempt to assault the responding police officers, according to the death report.

“UTPD was called to make an arrest based on these events.  While the subject was under arrest at the hospital, he stopped breathing. Medical personnel administered life-saving measures, and the arrestee was revived but never regained consciousness,” according to UT’s statement. “On February 27, 2024, the patient was pronounced deceased. The department immediately notified the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and its own chain of command. Texas DPS is currently investigating the matter as required for all in-custody deaths.”

UT said the arresting officer has been placed on “administrative duties” assignments, but it would not release the name of the officer.

Smith said she and her family question how the police and UT have characterized the incident and why the police would resort to arresting a man having a mental health emergency while seeking care in a hospital.

Crenshaw’s family took photos of him in his hospital bed after the incident, and KXAN viewed them. The images show Crenshaw comatose and on a ventilator; he has a blackened left eye and road-rash type scrapes across the left side of his face.

Beyond the brief descriptions offered by university officials, the facts surrounding the incident are scant. Many details in the custodial death report – like the cause and manner of Crenshaw’s death – are noted as pending until the autopsy results come back.

Crenshaw was kept alive with a ventilator, but doctors had determined he was brain dead, and he was taken off life support within days.

KXAN’s request for the autopsy remains pending, and the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office said it may not be finished for months.

DPS confirmed it has been investigating the incident.

“At the request of the University of Texas Police Department (UTPD), the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Texas Rangers are leading the investigation into custodial death of Laison Crenshaw that occurred at Dell Seton Medical Center. This is an ongoing investigation and currently there is no additional information,” DPS Sergeant Deon Cockrell told KXAN by email.

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office confirmed the investigation has now been handed over to them.

“The DA’s office can confirm that on April 10 our office received the report on this case from the Texas Rangers,” said Ismael Martinez, a spokesperson for the DA’s office told KXAN. Martinez said his office could provide no further information at this time.

Ascension Seton owns and operates Dell Seton Medical Hospital, according to UT.

A spokesperson for Ascension said: “We are fully cooperating with the investigation into this matter. However, due to the ongoing nature of this investigation, we are unable to provide further comment at this time.”

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to KXAN Austin.

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