DENVER — There were balloons on the front steps of Denver’s detention center Tuesday. Lots of them, in red, black and green.
Holding the strings tightly, the crowd hugged each other in relief over a federal jury verdict that found the city used excessive force when killing Marvin Booker inside what speakers at the event called the “death trap” behind them.
“Amen,” they told each other after their four-year legal battle. “We did it.” “Hallelujah.”
And then, all together, Booker’s family, friends, lawyers and total strangers galvanized by his July 2010 killing let go of the strings.
The balloons rose past the sign “Van Sise-Simonet Detention Center” and past the city’s seal. Then, caught by the wind, they drifted up west over the city’s courthouse into the late afternoon sun.
The crowd – many in tears – watched in silence. And then they spoke up.
Balloons, they said, didn’t make Tuesday’s gathering a party. A $4.65 million jury award — although cause for relief — doesn’t fix what’s broken in the safety department that killed the homeless street preacher and what’s heartless about the mayor’s administration that strained for years to justify it, they said. Just because the jury meted out some measure of justice that morning, they pledged that their fight in Marvin Booker’s memory isn’t close to over.
Spencer Booker, Booker’s brother and a prominent St. Louis pastor, slammed the city for not firing the deputies who killed his brother. He admonished the city’s independent monitor “who looked us in the face and said they broke no policies.” He denounced District Attorney Mitch Morrissey for not pressing charges against the deputies. “He’s supposed to be the DA. Who’s watching him?
“That man needs to move out of the way – way out – and let someone do the job of prosecuting crimes in this city.”
Another of Booker’s brothers, Calvin Booker, a pastor in Memphis, cited a string of “cover-ups and lies” by city officials in handling the case. He called for the ousting of Morrissey, Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell, Safety Manager Stephanie O’Malley and Mayor Michael Hancock.
“They smeared our brother’s name to defend what couldn’t be defended,” he said. “And it needs to be cleaned up, from the top down.”
A day after Tuesday’s verdict, city officials remain mostly mum about a case in which the deputies involved in Booker’s killing, their supervisors and their supervisors’ supervisors glossed over the facts of the incident and the city’s investigation of it. It was revealed at trial that one of the deputies had a long record of “use-of-force” incidents. Another admitted to handing over the wrong stun gun for police analysis, “misplacing” the weapon that may have killed Booker. Another deputy deleted text messages among colleagues who were involved. And the city waited until the day trial began to disclose large amounts of discovery evidence.
The only official statement came from City Attorney Scott Martinez: “We’re obviously disappointed in the verdict. Nonetheless, we thank the jurors for their effort and respect the legal process. The city remains committed to its ongoing efforts to improve the Denver Sheriff’s Department.”
Booker’s relatives aren’t the only ones questioning that commitment.
An increasingly loud chorus of Colorado faith leaders is slamming Hancock for defending the lawsuit after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that the city’s case was virtually indefensible. They point to what they see as the hypocrisy of simultaneously employing a bevy of lawyers to defend fatal misconduct and cover-ups in the Booker case while promising reforms after a rash of more misconduct cases – some of which were first reported by The Independent.
“It was clear from the very beginning when The Colorado Independent exposed the culture of indifference and violence that this scandal is beyond Mayor Hancock’s ability to do what is necessary to bring about reform,” said former City Safety Manager Butch Montoya, a leader in metro Denver’s Latino community. “This administration’s effort to handle a very serious lapse of supervision and control in the jail is simply a Bandaid approach when extensive surgery is needed to reform this department.”
“I will continue to shout from the steps of City Hall. It is imperative that a Department of Justice civil rights investigation and complete oversight of the Denver jails be initiated,” the Rev. Timothy Tyler of Denver’s Shorter AME Church said. He has tried several times to speak with Hancock about the case, but to no avail.
“Our mayor has some major fence-mending to do,” he said.
The Rev. Reginald C. Holmes, who like Tyler sat through much of the three-week Booker trial, welcomed Tuesday’s verdict as the first formal acknowledgement of gross misconduct in Booker’s case – and of the prolonged, formal effort to smear the name of a man city officials kicked (choking and stun-gunning him) literally when he was down.
“This ruling was a step, a big step. But today is not reason to celebrate. This is a reason to put all our community efforts toward making sure our mayor does not continue to get away with perpetuating this kind of corruption in his administration,” said Holmes, pastor at Denver’s New Covenant Christian Church/Alpha Omega Ministries.
“This was a case you could see was wrong on videotape, you could see was wrong from the evidence and you could see was wrong by the cries – four years of cries – from the community,” he added. “It’s hard and painful to believe that everybody could see what was right and wrong here – everybody, that is, except the mayor and his administration.”
[ Photos: Outside Denver detention center by Susan Greene; Marvin Booker.]