When Marshall Price was found guilty of drug trafficking for possessing kratom that he legally purchased at a gas station in a neighboring state, the Arkansas state attorney overseeing the case thanked the prosecutors who tried the case for their “hard work” on behalf of their communities.
More than nine months after Price sustained fatal injuries in custody, his family is asking those same prosecutors why it is taking so long to pursue justice for their lost loved one.
Price’s entry into the legal system started with an arrest on May 5, 2021, with what authorities called a “large” amount of kratom. Price had purchased the kratom legally in Missouri. A conviction followed more than a year later for drug trafficking and came with a sentence of 10 years in prison. Less than a month later, Price died from multiple injuries following a middle-of-the-night trip to the hospital.
That was December of 2022–Price’s family is still searching for answers as authorities maintain relative silence on the death and who was responsible.
Price’s 10-year sentence was a result of kratom’s status in Arkansas. The Arkansas Department of Health proposed adding kratom to Schedule I in 2015, and the legislature followed the recommendation in 2016. Since kratom is a controlled substance in the state, Price was charged with trafficking even though authorities presented no evidence or indication that Price purchased the kratom for anything more than personal use.
Through a GoFundMe set up to support his family and in an interview earlier this year with local news, Price’s family have shared their side of the ordeal. It started with Price heading “three miles down the road” to purchase a kratom tea leaf powder. Then, 18 months later, Price’s sister Sheena received a call at 1:47 a.m. from the Greene County Jail Administration telling Sheena that Marshall had “bumped his head” and “it didn’t look good.”
Marshall Price died from his injuries at the age of 46.
Official Narrative Strays From Eyewitness Accounts
What is most troubling to the family is the lack of communication and the disparity between the truth and what they’ve been led to believe.
On the GoFundMe page for Price, his family passed on the details they’ve heard and said “His fellow inmates are doing everything they can to get their version of the story told.” That version includes an indecent around 11 a.m. the day before Price died, the sound of an altercation and claims that Price was incoherent from a head injury. Instead of seeking treatment immediately, other inmates claim that Price was treated for 20 minutes, returned to his cell and left for six hours before he received emergency treatment.
Those same inmates also said that the unit Price was being held in was locked down and searched with dogs in the hours before emergency treatment was administered.
The official story provided to the family is that Price suffered his fatal injury by hitting his head, most likely on his bunk.
What makes that hard for the family to accept is the extent of injuries they were told that Price experienced. According to the family’s conversation with the coroner, Price had a fractured skull, brain swelling, a ruptured spleen and broke several ribs in the lead-up to suffering cardiac arrest.
Family Still Searching for Justice
On top of concerns over the details of Price’s death, the family is also concerned about a lack of accountability for those involved in the incident that led to his injuries. Since her father’s death, Julian Price told local news that the family has heard “horror stories” of an abusive culture at the jail and has not received any updates from authorities about other inmates or staff members who may have been involved or seen the events that led to Price’s injury.
Local media has also been stonewalled in their attempts to request information. The collective effect of the silence has led the family to be concerned that the authorities are more concerned about putting Price in the past, rather than pursuing justice for an in-custody death.
Support for Price has also spilled over from the online world. Through Facebook events and the GoFundMe page, Julian has sparked an online movement to demand answers about what happened to her father. A Change.org petition currently has more than 1100 signatures demanding a more transparent and public-facing investigation into what happened in Price’s jail cell.
The family also wants to use the death of their loved one to send a message: Criminalizing a dietary supplement, especially one that is legal in neighboring states, puts people in danger. Regardless of who is responsible for his death, the family contends, Price’s unreasonable detention is the only factor that put him at risk.
By finding more reasons to criminalize personal lifestyle choices, states like Arkansas are playing with lives, and the family wants to honor Price’s memory by doing something about it.
“One of our goals, as a family, is to lift the kratom ban in Arkansas. This tragic incident should serve as an example as to why that is,” the update read. “Our goal is that no one will, ever again, be sentenced to incarceration due to this tea leaf.”