ON Saturday afternoon a loosely organized, mixed-bag of local slam poets, families and activists touting Guy Fawkes masks gathered outside of Romero Family Funeral home on Tejon Street with signs and banners, sunscreen and plenty of water. About 60 protesters took over Tejon, marching to the Denver Police Department’s District One station and then into downtown Denver, demanding justice for Ryan Ronquillo, a 20-year-old who was shot by police July 2.
Leading the effort was Dave Shapiro-Strano, founder of Denver Anarchist Black Cross. Shapiro-Strano has taken up Ronquillo’s death as his latest project, helping to organize another demonstration against police brutality and starting a crowd-funding project to help Ronquillo’s family pay for his burial. A group of local slam poets came to support Ronquillo’s family — they held a fundraiser for the family the night before — but several made it clear they had not organized the march.
On July 2 Ronquillo was planning on attending his friend’s funeral. He didn’t make it past the parking lot.
According to the Denver Post, Ronquillo intended to pay respects to Isaiah Luevano, 19, described as a close friend to Ronquillo and who committed suicide the previous week. Ronquillo arrived to the funeral late in a stolen Honda.
Security footage from the funeral home shows Ronquillo backing into a parking space in a sleek black Honda. Less than one minute later, two unmarked SUVs swerve into the lot and block his path of escape. Police officers leap from their vehicles and approach the car, guns raised. According to the official report from District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, these officers had trailed Ronquillo for three hours with warrants for his arrest on counts of domestic violence and car theft.
Morrissey’s report describes Ronquillo’s attempts to flee, as he frantically revved the engine and fumbled to put the car into reverse as officers opened the car door “with the intent of grabbing Ronquillo before he could put the car in gear.” According to the report Ronquillo backed out “over a small earthen berm, across the sidewalk and into an unmarked car.”
The report indicates that the police opened fire just as Ronquillo switched the car into drive and lurched forward, apparently attempting to ram his way past the two SUVs trapping him in. Four officers fired a total of 11 rounds at Ronquillo, according to Morrissey’s report.
Paramedics arrived shortly after the shooting, as did investigators with the Office of the Medical Examiner. Ronquillo “was pronounced dead at the scene,” Morrissey’s report states. In an examination the next day, the coroner reported that the cause of death was three gunshots to the face and head. Officials found three grams of meth in the car, but no weapons of any kind.
When mourners left the funeral home, the parking lot was a police scene, and many saw Ronquillo’s body in the crushed Honda. Police Chief Robert White later apologized to mourners for additional trauma caused to them.
Over a month after the incident, Morrissey concluded that the police were authorized to use deadly force in these circumstances and no criminal charges would be filed against the officers.
The march was quiet, with several protesters carrying signs referring to the death of Mike Brown, an unarmed teenager who was shot Aug. 9 by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. In contrast to the show of police force during protests in Ferguson, Denver officers stayed on the sidelines.
A spokesman for the Denver Police said that one individual was arrested for tagging an electrical box during the march, but otherwise the demonstration was “pretty much peaceful. There was no outstanding violence or other issues that we could see.”
Ronquillo’s mother, April Sanchez, told the crowd on Saturday that she is circulating a petition asking Morrissey to reopen the investigation. She and other family members came in support of the demonstrations.
Watch our coverage of Saturday’s march:
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