Denver ousts slain inmate’s niece from public meeting

Natalia Marshall used to take pride in Denver. She and her family long supported Michael Hancock, the city’s second black mayor. She’d even defend the city’s criminal justice system, which many of her friends would deride.

But Marshall lost her optimism when her uncle, a mentally ill homeless man, died in November after sheriff’s deputies restrained him in the Denver jail.

Her faith in Hancock sank when the Mayor refused to meet with her and her family this winter, and then called the death of her uncle, Michael Marshall, a tragedy not only for his relatives, but also for the deputies who killed him. None was reprimanded for what the coroner deemed a homicide.

“Saying it was a tragedy for those officers, repeatedly as Hancock (has), feels like a knife in our backs,” she says.

This past weekend, Marshall’s confidence in Hancock and his administration eroded even further when police ousted her from a public meeting with the Mayor.

“They’re targeting me, singling me out,” she says. “They’re trying to make me go away.”

Marshall is a 29-year-old student, graveyard-shift nursing-home worker and mother of two who doesn’t have much time for political activism. Nor, as an introvert, does she have the disposition. But, since her uncle’s death late last year, she says she has felt compelled to speak out.

That’s why she joined members of Black Lives Matter 5280 in a demonstration Saturday during Hancock’s community meeting at Thomas Jefferson High School. At 9:20 a.m, she and two other protestors quietly stood next to the Mayor with signs objecting to his administration’s recent eradication of homeless people off Denver’s streets.

“Stop the Sweeps,” read her sign.

Marshall and others in attendance note that their silent protest wasn’t nearly as disturbing as that of a middle aged white woman in the meeting who kept shouting at the Mayor about fracking and other issues.

Still, only Marshall – not the loud white woman, nor two male Black Lives Matter protestors who were demonstrating quietly alongside Marshall – was handcuffed and removed from the meeting. Police didn’t arrest her, but took away her placard.

Marshall figures she may have been singled out because of her race, gender and size.

“Maybe they thought, ‘Let’s just get the black woman’,” she says. “Like my uncle, I was the smallest one there.”

Michael Marshall weighed 135 pounds when he was hauled into custody on a trespassing charges and killed at the hands of several much larger sheriff’s deputies after having an acute schizophrenic episode in the jail.

“The city apparently thinks they can pick on people who are vulnerable or can’t put up much of a fight,” his niece says.

Still, Natalia Marshall suspects the city’s motives for her ouster were more personal. She thinks she was singled out in retaliation for the noise she and others have been making about her uncle’s death.

While Michael Marshall was comatose at Denver Health Medical Center, she met with city Safety Manager Stephanie O’Malley, City Attorney Scott Martinez and Sheriff Patrick Firman. She since has protested at a city council meeting and at Hancock’s office. Hancock has declined to meet with her, her family and their lawyers. Natalia Marshall, in turn, has accused his administration of trying to intimidate them into not suing the city.

“They know who I am and I feel absolutely like I’m being targeted, intimidated,” Marshall says of her handcuffing Saturday.

“I used to think they were all doing their jobs, serving the public, and that it all worked pretty well at the city,” she told The Colorado Independent in February. “I’ve woken up to what’s happening in this administration. Denver needs to know what they’re doing to our most vulnerable citizens.

“I won’t be intimidated by them.”

Neither the Mayor’s office nor Denver’s Department of Safety have responded to inquiries about Marshall’s ouster from Hancock’s meeting. We’ll update this story if they do.

Meantime, the incident has caused a flurry of social media fury. Among those complaining is Terrance Hughes, a pastor at Denver’s New Covenant Alpha Omega Ministries.

When Hancock vowed last year to change the way the city treats mentally ill inmates at the jail, Hughes joined a citizens’ committee to help carry out those reforms. Those efforts stalled in the months before Marshall’s death, leading Hughes and fellow members of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance to slam Hancock – whom they once supported – for turning his back on Denver’s homeless and mentally ill communities.

“For the Mayor to call a public meeting in a public space and then basically detain anyone just for holding up a sign, I find that very odd – just another step in the Hancock administration’s methods of tyranny,” Hughes said.

“Our city officials think it’s OK to put handcuffs on a woman whose uncle was murdered in the jail. She’s suffering already. To treat her that way is, in my opinion, unconscionable.”

Photo courtesy of Black Lives Matter 5280