Documentary Recalls Local Tragedy

It’s been almost eight years since Ismael Mena was shot and killed by Denver police.

In September 1999, officers conducted a no-knock drug raid at the wrong address, and Mena was shot eight times in the onslaught. The police have always maintained that they shot Mena because he had  pulled a pistol shortly after waking up to the commotion, but the deadly fiasco lead to the demotion of police Chief Tom Sanchez and another officer ended up pleading guilty to signing a false search warrant.

Enter Alan and David Dominguez. The two brothers have spent years working on “Holes In The Door,” a documentary analyzing the Mena case that is set to premier tonight in the Xican Indie Film Festival at the Tivoli in Denver.Denver Post Columnist Jim Spencer sums it up:

Wherever else it might show, this movie deserves an audience in Denver. Controversial shootings of civilians finally led to radical police reform after the killing of a developmentally disabled 15-year-old in 2003. But Mena’s death still ranks among the worst – and the weirdest – in DPD history. It looks worse when the Dominguez brothers compile all of what is known and not known in a single presentation.

The most intriguing role in the 66-minute film goes to the unseen informant who supposedly led the cops to the wrong address, where Mena was killed. The snitch offers insight into a practice called “trick or treat,” in which he bought drugs anywhere he could find them, then gave the drugs to Denver police, who used them as the evidence for warrants to search wherever they chose.

The city settled with Mena’s family for $400,000. In the movie, Mena’s son, Herbierto, talks of the pressure Denver’s Mexican consul placed on the family to take the offer.

It wasn’t exactly hush money. But as “The Holes in the Door” makes clear, the settlement ended any chance to sort out what actually happened to Mena.

“I really hope it keeps police reform moving in the right direction,” Alan Dominguez said of his movie.

The movie is set to be shown at 9 p.m. tonight.

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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