MUNISING, Mich. — Charges were formally dismissed against former Michigan Department of Corrections Sgt. Jason Denman and Officer Shawn Brinkman in 11th Circuit Court on Thursday, May 9, in relation to the 2019 death of Alger Correctional Facility inmate Johnathan Lancaster. The decision was made by Hon. Brian Rahilly after the state failed to present enough evidence to justify the charge.

Denman and Brinkman were facing one count each of Common Law Offenses for misconduct in office, a maximum five-year felony and/or $10,000 fine. The pair were moving Lancaster from an observation cell when he died in custody of extreme dehydration.

The pair join six other defendants charged in Lancaster’s death who already had their charges dismissed in September 2023. Acting Warden Scott Sprader, Assistant Deputy Warden Benny Mercier, and MDOC nurses Paul Zelenak, Nathan Moser, John Crane and Barbara Bedient were charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter, but those charges were dismissed by 93rd District Court Judge Charles Nebel. That was after the state’s doctor testified that there was nothing the defendants could do in the moment to save Lancaster’s life.

Because of Nebel’s decision, the six were never bound over to circuit court. Denman and Brinkman had been bound over in a previous hearing that did not include the state doctor’s testimony. That was because both the prosecution and the eight separate defense attorneys agreed that the hearings could be separated based on the charges being different between the defendants. The hearing for the pair facing the lesser felony occurred first while the six facing involuntary manslaughter happened weeks later.

While the trial was held in Alger County, the charges were filed by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on June 20, 2023 after a Michigan State Police investigation. In the press release, Nessel said the death “was a preventable tragedy that played out over days and under the defendants’ supervision” when Lancaster was placed in an observation cell after he stopped eating and drinking.

Lancaster had a history of mental illness, including schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder, according to a lawsuit filed by his family against the MDOC in November 2019. The lawsuit was settled in 2021 for $2.6 million, according to a MLive report.

The case was primarily handled by Philip Jacques of the AG’s office, but according to court records, the state filed for change of prosecutor to Michael Doby on April 8, 2024. Doby failed to convince the court to grant an adjournment to avoid scheduling conflicts in his personal life before the case went to trial at its previously scheduled time. The circuit court itself, which covers four counties in the central and eastern Upper Peninsula, was also unable to find another trial date in Alger County in a timely fashion, preventing the adjournment. Court records showed that adjournment did not impact Brinkman’s defense counsel, but a delay could negatively impact expert witnesses prepared by Denman’s counsel.

Karl Numinen of Numinen, DeForge & Toutant in Marquette was Brinkman’s attorney. Daniel Mead of Graybill & Mead in Marquette was Denman’s attorney.

The state has the right to file an appeal of the decision, but had not previously appealed the decision to dismiss the other six defendants.