Coroner Rules Jail Death Following Tasering and Guard Restraint a Homicide

Denver recently got a new spiffy courthouse and jail. The jail opened in April and is called the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Facility. Our old county jail was deplorable. But I don't recall any inmates there being tased to death by guards.

In July, Marvin Booker, 56, a homeless ordained minister who helped the poor and who had a history of petty offenses that occurred a long time ago, was arrested on drug paraphernalia charges and brought to the new jail. He never made it out alive. The coroner's report released today labels the death a homicide.

Booker was asleep on a chair in the holding tank when a guard told him to go to processing desk and sit down. He was wearing his socks and wanted to get his shoes which were nearby. The guard told him not to and directed him to go to an isolation cell. He began walking back to the holding tank, and the guard went to physically restrain him. He tried to shake her off and she and three other guards jumped him. Here's what witnesses say happened after that. According to the autopsy report released today (available here) the coroner finds: [More...]

The coroner ruled Booker's death was caused by "cardiorespiratory arrest during physical restraint." The coroner said deputies had their body weight on Booker's back continuously for four minutes while he was face down and put him in a "sleeper hold" for more than two minutes while shocking him with a Taser for 8 seconds.

As to Marvin Booker, from the Denver Post, Booker spent 2007 and 2008 homeless in Memphis. He was a frequent volunteer at soup kitchens:

He wrote a book about Martin Luther King Jr., and he sold it on the streets of Memphis, usually to tourists who heard him recite King's famous "I have a dream" speech. When he spoke, crowds of tourists gathered.

"If you closed your eyes, you would think you were in the presence of Martin Luther King," said Memphis Pastor Andrews R. Smith. "People would cry. He was always smiling. His eyes would just shine like a chipmunk.....Marvin is such a kindhearted person," Smith said.

Five deputies are on leave without pay. There is a videotape but police are not releasing it, despite the requests of Booker's family and their attorney, Darrold Kilmer. Kilmer says of today's findings:

"The autopsy confirms fear that Mr. Booker was murdered at the hands of the Denver District Sheriff’s Office," Killmer said. "We look forward to the (Denver) District Attorney bringing charges against those responsible for murdering Mr. Booker. "The Booker family has been wanting justice and accountability, and now we know who is responsible for his death."

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    We gotta get back to... (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by Romberry on Fri Aug 20, 2010 at 07:36:07 PM EST
    ...the original idea on Tasers which as best as I understood it when they first came out boiled down to "Tasers are an alternative to lethal force." To my mind, it follows that the only time an officer should deploy a Taser is when the alternative would be to resort to lethal force. And from that it follows that if the Denver PD would not think it justifiable to shoot Marvin Booker in order to keep him from retrieving his shoes, then they should not have thought it justifiable to Taser him either.

    Tasers are being deployed in what seems to be just a matter of routine these days. Maybe we ought to push for "Taser review boards" much as we have shooting review boards. And again, the training standard ought to be "alternative to lethal force."

    I hope the DA does something with this. Not so much to the officers involved (as I bet they were doing more or less what they were trained to do) but with the department and the policies on Tasers as a whole.

    This is one of those (5.00 / 3) (#8)
    by JamesTX on Fri Aug 20, 2010 at 09:14:42 PM EST
    areas where the conservative sentiment has won out over logic. You are exactly right. Of course, in practice, we are quickly becoming the one thing we thought we were not -- the one thing we could be proud of about our criminal justice system. Ultimately, we were system accountable to courts, and our police were limited in power and did not torture. The Taser has become a de facto tool of torture -- nothing less -- and to refer to its routine use for "compliance" is an understatement and an insult to our intelligence. The sick dynamic in this country right now is that routine torture of the poor is not something many people get upset about, because, of course, we are all going to be rich and the poor don't matter. These cops now knowingly and intentionally use this weapon for the purpose of torture, and we are standing by and doing nothing about it. That is dangerous for our Constitution. Very, very dangerous. Soon it will be all of us, and if we don't stop it, we deserve it.

    This is not a good case to use (none / 0) (#16)
    by Jack E Lope on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 09:38:47 AM EST
    ...against the Taser®, since it and the cocaine appear to be only minor factors.  Besides that, there are business interests who will "lawyer-up" to keep the Taser® from being called any factor at all.

    The series of events that occur when deprived of oxygen may happen quickly in patients, um, prisoners in poor health, but to asphyxiate someone normally requires that their breathing be stopped for some period of time after they have lost the physical ability to resist and after they have lost conciousness.

    But, I intended to digress: I think a case can be made that the Taser® is often used to punish a suspect, bystander, witness or other annoyance.  This turns the officer who wields the Taser® into Judge, Jury, and, um, they guy who doles out punishment.

    If an officer used a nightstick to inflict pain on someone, but did not intend to arrest that person for anything, would we let it pass?  I'm told that the pain of the electric weapon is worse than anything a nightstick can do without causing injury.

    I see some humor (my emphasis) in this statement from the website of Taser International:

    TASER products mean safety and are meant to save lives, protect you and your family, and protect the truth!

    That doesn't explain why one Portland officer, a few years ago, after he had taken a suspect into custody, told all witnesses to leave the scene - then tasered those who did not comply.  Scattering the witnesses appears to be anti-truth.

    Back to the case at hand: Rumor has it that the videotape librarian is the granddaughter of Rose Mary Woods....


    I am not sure (5.00 / 1) (#30)
    by JamesTX on Sun Aug 22, 2010 at 04:24:15 PM EST
    about the issue of the Taser(R), which I will just refer to generically as an electronic torture device (ELT) to avoid any reference to a particular product. In fact, it doesn't matter because I do not see the issue as whether or not this particular device is lethal, non-lethal, benign, or whatever based on its physical design. If they take it out of service, it will just be replaced with something else. What I am concerned with is how this and other devices brought into service as an alternative to deadly force have been converted into instruments of torture and used quickly and carelessly in situations where a gun would never be used. It is used for punishment, not protection. The problem with the device is that the intense suffering it inflicts can be largely invisible to the observer. That has given rise to the commonly observed "dogpile" tactic where groups of police tackle and hold down a suspect with rubber gloves and administer the torture. It all looks very peaceful, as if nothing at all is happening. The victim is paralyzed with terror and pain, so the observer doesn't get a full understanding that what is happening is intense and brutal physical torture. This is not the American way, and it needs to be stopped.

    Jesus (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Rojas on Fri Aug 20, 2010 at 08:49:28 PM EST

    I agree with you that the taser (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Untold Story on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 08:11:13 AM EST
    was not the cause of death any more than the use of cocaine was the cause of death.

    Death was caused by asphyxiation (probably caused by the 'headlock' causing the blockage of air).  Evidence of strangulation, or asphyxiation, is found in the busted blood vessels in this poor man's eyes and eyelids.

    This, to me, is no different than if the officer had taken out his gun and shot him in the neck.

    Also agree with the overuse of tasers. But I hope tasers isn't used to cloud the issue of extreme force causing death.

    A 5'5" 56 year old restrained, handcuffed behind his back, and it takes five officers to further restrain him?  Plus a taser! And a headlock!

    All he wanted were his shoes for goodness sake.  He is homeless and they would, most probably be, the only pair of shoes he owns, with no means of getting another pair.

    Personally, I think they all should be charged.  

    He did utter 'I can't breathe' - his last words.

    Just my opinion

    I am so sick of various (5.00 / 3) (#13)
    by Militarytracy on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 08:53:30 AM EST
    police departments filming everything, but I can only see what they tell me I get to see and that will only be footage that documents inmates acting inhumane......if police officers do it I won't be able to view that footage.

    They are my servants.  I pay their wages.  The public owns those videos.  Something needs to be done about that insanity too.  Who is their check and balance?

    Lack of common sense: let him have shoes (5.00 / 3) (#15)
    by dead dancer on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 09:30:48 AM EST
    Isn't that so convenient; the footage will be released when all copies have been accounted for and  destroyed.

    And if you dare make your own video -
    you're a criminal.

    I guess we should stfu and place this all under National Security. After all, he was homeless.


    Kind of Like the Israeli videos (none / 0) (#33)
    by Xclusionary Rule 4ever on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 11:02:01 AM EST
    . . . of the 9 people killed at sea. We never got to see the edited portions of those official video feeds, did we?

    Thanks for posting this Jeralyn! (none / 0) (#1)
    by robrecht on Fri Aug 20, 2010 at 06:25:34 PM EST

    I am not sure (none / 0) (#2)
    by JamesTX on Fri Aug 20, 2010 at 06:38:19 PM EST
    I understand the legal significance of a coroner's decision. Does homicide mean the coroner determined it was a crime, or does this just mean the coroner determined he was killed by another person?

    it means another human being (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Aug 20, 2010 at 07:24:31 PM EST
    caused his death and he did not die of natural causes. The coroner makes no findings as to whether a crime was committed.

    He obviously died from (none / 0) (#6)
    by Untold Story on Fri Aug 20, 2010 at 07:45:48 PM EST

    Great that prisoners was there as witnesses to this event.

    Interesting to see the video tape!

    The autopsy is somewhat fudging (imo) as I don't know why cocaine would have any significance when one is asphyxiated.


    The cause of death indicated ... (none / 0) (#14)
    by Yman on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 09:01:28 AM EST
    ... by the coroner's office was "cardiorespiratory arrest", not asphyxiation, per se.  The cocaine use was noted by the coroner as one of three "significant contributing factors", which it certainly can be.  A second opinion by an independent expert may be helpful, but stating that the death was "obviously" caused by asphyxiation and accusing the coroner of "fudging" by listing his cocaine use as a factor is sheer speculation.

    Cardiorespiratory arrest (5.00 / 2) (#17)
    by Untold Story on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 09:44:49 AM EST
    caused by asphyxia as a result of neck compression during restraining procedures would be my read.

    Asphyxia is the most common cause of cardiorespiratory arrest.  

    Acute cardiorespiratory arrest is commonly a result of carotid control hold of the neck.

    The carotid artery hold used by law enforcement has resulted in deaths.  Police manuals emphasizes that control hold should be used only when absolutely necessary and to stop when unconsciousness occurs, which is about 5 to 8 seconds.  It should be used in restraining and not to cause unconsciousness.  So when you have someone down, handcuffed behind their back, five officers, and also being tasered, doubt very much that a carotid artery hold can be justified.  IMO

    If this choke hold is applied, law enforcement should be taught to recognize immediately state of unconsciousness and release their pressure.  If unconsciousness persists then resuscitation methods should be started immediately.  Never ever should an unconscious person be place face down.  So justify their picking this man up by all fours, throwing him into a cell face down, and high-fiving each other, when the man was dead and they didn't bother to notice.

    The fourth officer using the choke hold needs to get murder one, and the others second degree.  Just my opinion.

    My opinion is the coroner has to cover himself, but did stretch it out so that it isn't so easily put together as in stating cardiorespiratory arest caused by asphyxia as a result of carotid artery control hold.

    Just my opinion.


    Oh, and yes he had (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Untold Story on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 09:50:39 AM EST
    an enlarged heart and had used cocaine - but they didn't cause instant death!

    No one's claiming they did ... (none / 0) (#21)
    by Yman on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 11:36:42 AM EST
    ... cause "instant death", although the medical examiner stated they were significant contributing factors in his death.  I pointed them out by way of explanation for the coroner's inclusion of the cocaine results, which you thought was merely included as a means of 'fudging" the results.

    Just to be clear, this is not to say that Mr. Booker was at fault or the police were not at fault.


    There is nothing in the report ... (none / 0) (#20)
    by Yman on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 11:25:43 AM EST
    ... stating that the cardiorespiratory arrest was caused by asphixiation, let alone specifically by the chokehold.  Possible?  Sure.  It's also possible that it was caused by the shock of the taser.  Or a combination of a shock of the taser with Mr. Booker's cardiac hypertrophy, emphysema and/or cocaine use.  It's also possible that the coroner wasn't "fudging" when he didn't tie the cardiorespiratory arrest to the chokehold, but simply couldn't conclusively determine which of the factors caused the cardiorespiratory arrest.

    Heeeeeeey .......

    ... this speculation thing is easy.


    And what is your theory (5.00 / 2) (#22)
    by Untold Story on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 12:20:44 PM EST
    for the petechial homorrhage, sclerae conjunctivae, herrorhage to the base of the sternocleidomastoid and left stenohyroid muscles? As well as evidence of weight on thorax and abdomen?

    The coroner did note asphyxiation probably due to carotid sleeper (sounds so much better than choke hold) and weight on thorxax and abdomen probably due to officers restraining him - (if memory serves me).

    Officers admitted to 'headlock'.  However, reason for headlock, choke hold, carotid artery hold, is to restrain.  Three officers were on top of this man already - who is face down on the floor.  Also for a choke hold - should never be done when the subject is face down.  

    In addition, great caution needs to be exercised in restraining rather than rendering unconscious.  And, resuscitation methods should have been started immediately.

    Officer admitted it took him two and a half minutes for this 'headlock'. (He says he was applying and releasing pressure as in a fairy tale story, imo, as again it just doesn't sound so awful.)  

    Legally it take only two minutes to determine intent to kill by choke hold.

    This is all taught in marital arts btw.

    Also to say that contributing factors made him more vunerable is like saying someone with lung cancer isn't quite a dead as someone without after they have been shot in the chest. Or, a strangled victim isn't as dead since they had a broken left arm to begin with so wasn't able to help themselves!

    The factors exist, yes, and could, or could not have hasten death, much as the weight on his thorax and abdomen could be also a contributing factor, not to mention being face down on the floor with head elevated for the choke hold, the tasering, handcuffs preventing use of arms - but, law enforcement either know the harmful results of these tactics when used, or, if they don't, then they should not be allowed to incur death as a means to restrain anyone.

    My feeling is it should have been evident this man was only 135 lbs (not 175 as the police gave to the newspaper) - 5' 5" up against five able-bodied police force.  It was a bunch of bullys attacking a homeless, helpless man for their own pleasure and I hope they are charged in accordance with the crime.

    I find it disguesting and criminal.  


    My theory is that ... (none / 0) (#23)
    by Yman on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 01:30:25 PM EST
    ... they were probably caused by the police restraining him and putting him in a chokehold - what's your point?  That does not mean that asphyxiation was the cause of the cardiorespiratory arrest, or that the other contributing factors listed by the medical examiner were "fudged".

    Legally it take only two minutes to determine intent to kill by choke hold.

    B.S. - and unless your martial arts instructor happens to teach criminal law, probably not the best place to get legal advice.


    And may I ask you how could (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by Untold Story on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 02:07:37 PM EST
    restraining him by using a choke hold would have caused death - as in instant death, sudden death?

    Autopsy report clearly state:

    'cardiorespiratory arrest during physical restraint.  The restraints consisted of weight applied to the decedent's body while held prone on the floor, application of a carotid 'sleeper' hold to the decedent's neck . . ."

    Sleeper means unconsciousness fyi.

    If you close off carotid arteries - then you better be darn sure they are open or you are legally negligent - and intent to commit murder takes only two minutes as determined by law precedent.  It takes seconds for the 'victim' to loose consciousness - and the choke holder is supposed to know that before ever attempting a choke hold.  No time to check with your criminal  attorney as death happens if the carotid arteries do not open.

    Choke holds are use of lethal force.

    Maybe you are right, it may be that only the criminal lawyers know that a choke hold is a use of lethal force . . . clearly explains why the Denver prison guard detachment didn't know!

    I don't think to be a marital arts teacher one needs to be a criminal lawyer, anymore than I think properly trained police officers or any professional using a chokehold need to have crminal law degrees!  And, neither do you, but you like to make a ridiculous poin!  


    Ridiculous (none / 0) (#26)
    by Yman on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 06:00:44 PM EST
    intent to commit murder takes only two minutes as determined by law precedent.

    What "law precedent"?  Case law/precedent re: what constitutes the "intent" element of a murder charge varies from state to state, but generally there is no arbitrary time period (i.e. two minutes) to establish intent.  "Intent", and even premeditation (as required for certain murder charges), can be formed in far less than two minutes.  Once again, take legal advice from your martial arts instructor at your own peril.

    Choke holds are use of lethal force.

    Maybe you are right, it may be that only the criminal lawyers know that a choke hold is a use of lethal force.

    Try reading my post again and point out where I made such a claim.

    Be specific.


    One last try to help you understand! (none / 0) (#27)
    by Untold Story on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 08:08:29 PM EST
    Carotid hold, which this is apparently was, if done correctly should take about 5 to 8 seconds for unconsciousness to occur.  You, or the person doing the carotid hold is supposed to be very alert to the feeling of the subject going limp - in marital art they tap, however, you can not depend on that, so one must watch.  

    If you continue to hold for two minutes while the person is unconscious then that is the legal precedent of time designated for an intention to kill.

    Premediation doesn't come into this so don't get other factors involved, please.

    Criminal attorneys do not need to know anything about marital arts, choke holds or carotid holds to the best of my knowledge.  However, a marital arts instructor needs to know exactly what they are teaching and has the responsibility of being certain pupils are properly trained.

    Officials, judges, referees, coaches, trainers can recognize the player when he/she is choked out (becomes unconscious).  

    However, sadly, perhaps because they are not properly trained, law enforcement officers use of neck holds (as they call them) has resulted in deaths.  They need to be properly trained by judo certified instructors since the misuse and abuse of this technique of choking when used improperly results in fatalities.

    There have been reports of deaths allegedly caused by the use of choke holds which led to class action suits against its use from local to state to the US Supreme Court.

    Mitchell (civil rights attorney) argued before the Supreme Court in 1983 that police officers 'regularly and routinely' applied charotid holds in situations where they were not threatened by the use of deadly force and that numerous people have been killed or injured as a result of the application of the carotid hold and other choke holds.

    He didn't win, but California made it a deadly force option, same as a gun.  In San Diego four people died due to carotid hold to restrain them during 1990 alone.

    I believe Federal has restricted the use entirely.

    Just a couple of months ago - forget which state, a deaf man was murdered due to a CVS security guard using a choke hold.


    CVS guard allegedly using a choke hold (none / 0) (#28)
    by Untold Story on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 08:13:35 PM EST

    Again - no kidding (none / 0) (#29)
    by Yman on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 09:22:08 PM EST
    Now, apart from citing a bunch of platitudes about chokeholds, how about addressing the issue I was discussing.  Namely, what precedent/case law supports your theory that

    intent to commit murder takes only two minutes as determined by law precedent.

    or, as you rephrased

    If you continue to hold for two minutes while the person is unconscious then that is the legal precedent of time designated for an intention to kill.

    I guarantee there's no such case, let alone such a case in the relevant jurisdiction (Colorado).

    It's simply fantasy.


    Why don't you hop to your law books (none / 0) (#31)
    by Untold Story on Sun Aug 22, 2010 at 05:51:55 PM EST
    and find a case to support what you are trying to say?

    Federal law always takes precedent over state law.  The case you can begin with is 1989 Graham v. Connor.

    Since I am not a criminal lawyer, I have no actual idea of state law for even my own state, let alone state statutes pertaining to other states in the Union.

    However, I do know this - it is a physiological impossibility for this not to happen -

    when no blood is actually being pumped to the brain, the nerve cells in the cerebal cortex dies in two minutes.

    Perhaps that is where two minutes came from rather than a law precedent.  I may well be mistaken on that.  It is a rule stipulated and held fast in marital arts.

    Again, my thoughts are that if law enforcement stipulated the same rules of training rather than relying on some statute, law precedent, phoning a criminal attorney, there would be no fatalies in using choke holds, etc., as there have never been
    in Judo over the two hundred (I believe, not sure on number of years) it has been practiced.

    Also tomorrow (again, think it is tomorrow - just too busy this Sunday night to go find this) there is an interesting case U.S. Dist Cirt of Boston, a wrongful death suit pertaining to Santana.


    No need (none / 0) (#32)
    by Yman on Sun Aug 22, 2010 at 10:26:50 PM EST
    My point(s) were that your conclusions regarding cause of death and the coroner's fudging were merely speculation, and that your "legal precedent" (2 minutes to establish intent for murder) was, in fact, fictional - both of which, ...

    ... you've clearly demonstrated.


    DA's office will decide, after review, (none / 0) (#3)
    by oculus on Fri Aug 20, 2010 at 06:45:18 PM EST
    if the homicide was "justifiable."  If so--no charge for murder.  

    funny that shooting someone with (none / 0) (#9)
    by cpinva on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 01:37:27 AM EST
    a few thousand volts of electricity might just kill them. i believe that was the basis for the electric chair.

    my understanding too, was that the taser was originally promoted as a non-lethal alternative to lethal force, i.e. a gun. that doesn't appear to have made the transition, from manufacturer promotion to standard police policy.

    Well (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by squeaky on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 10:17:55 AM EST
    America may be awash in stupid at the moment but our neighbors to the north are still able to apply critical thinking:

    The company that makes Tasers has lost its legal bid to quash a high-profile report that found the weapons can kill.
    The British Columbia Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a legal challenge by Taser International to overturn results of the inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

    The company was trying to quash retired justice Thomas Braidwood's findings that the weapons increase the risk of fatal heart failure.



    It is more complicated than it seems. (none / 0) (#10)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 03:53:42 AM EST
    First off the taser does use a high voltage, tens of thousands of volts, but it is designed to only allow a very small amount of current into the body.  Indeed it is primarily electric current that will kill.  The voltage is there to allow the current to penetrate the body.

    It is popular to discuss the taser as an alternative to a gun, but in reality, what it has replaced is the "baton," "strong arm or strong fist methods," and "pepper spray."  You can consider large metal flashlights to be the equivalent of a baton.

    To use a baton or strong arm techniques a person must be a good physical specimen especially in relationship to the person to be subdued and many of our police and guards aren't.  This is especially true nowadays with a lot of women serving as police and guards.

    What is desired is a weapon that can be used by someone that might not be particularly strong, or quick, or well coordinated, or even trained very well when they are a few feet away from the person to be subdued and with a desire to have less fatalities than batons, flying fists, or deadly choke holds would bring.

    Guns shouldn't be even considered as an alternative.  They are intended to kill.

    Tasers actually save lives compared to the alternatives.

    I suspect that the taser was only one factor in this person's death.

    I don't see where tasers are saving (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by Militarytracy on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 08:49:20 AM EST
    lives under their current criteria of usage.  What I have seen a lot of though IMO is law enforcement persons simply exercising absolute authority no matter how unreasonable, nothing greater than bullying and being able to treat other human beings like animals.

    Old women used to be able to suffer from the onset of dementia, and police officers used to use only the force needed to get my granny to safety or whatever.  Now they just fry her, they have busy days ya know even though their only job is to provide community safety and security.

    How dangerous was old Mr. Booker and who was he a danger to?  Who got their life saved from dangerous old Booker?  And it wasn't enough that he could easily be tased into complete oblivion, but a four minute sleeper hold and how many people sitting on him was also a solution?

    Tasers are destroying our police officers' need and incentive to even remember to be human beings IMO.


    Agreed, Militarytracy (none / 0) (#34)
    by Xclusionary Rule 4ever on Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 11:12:45 AM EST
    Predator drones save lives, too, but they are resulting in unwanted civilian casualties from irresponsible use. From my experience, in Georgia, over 20 years, working with deputies, cops, and defendants, most of the taser use I come across is unjustified. Employing a painful electroshock device as crowd control or for compliance in a misdemeanor arrest is just irresponsible. I have yet to hear of a case in Metro ATL where an officer used a Taser instead of his gun. Our military-wannabe cops are more than happy to draw down on suspects. Compliance is an obsession.

    Police Brutality (none / 0) (#25)
    by Lora on Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 04:43:20 PM EST
    An appropriate phrase, from Back In The Day.

    Apropos to so many recent instances.

    Let's bring it back.