Family speaks on seventh anniversary of Marvin Booker’s death

Monday, July 10, marked seven years and one day since Marvin Booker died at the hands of five Denver sheriff’s deputies. But on that sad anniversary, Booker’s family won a small victory – a meeting with the first and so far, only, city official to even talk to the family about the case.

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“In the early hours of July 9, 2010, [Booker] was hauled into Denver’s Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center on an outstanding warrant for drug possession. He had taken off his shoes in the seating area while waiting for his name to be called. When it was, at about 3:30 a.m., he walked sock-footed to the booking desk, then turned back to retrieve the shoes he’d left behind. A sheriff’s deputy grabbed him for ignoring her order that he return to the booking desk. Booker resisted, swinging his elbow toward her twice after she restrained his arm. Three other officers wrestled him to the ground, piled onto him, cuffed his hands behind his back, and put what’s called a sleeper hold on his neck. He died after Sgt. Rodriguez, the on-duty supervisor that morning, shocked him with a Taser.”

The authenticity of the Taser that the city and county of Denver entered into evidence is now in question, and on Monday the Booker family publicly pleaded with Denver’s new District Attorney Beth McCann to launch a criminal investigation into why the Taser relied on as evidence doesn’t match the facts of the case. That Taser was deployed 34 minutes after Booker was killed, and apparently for about one-third as long. The Booker family suspects someone in the city switched out the Taser used on Booker for one that shed more favorable – although inaccurate – light on the attack.

The family sued the city of Denver in federal court and won the largest judgment, $6 million, ever awarded in a civil lawsuit against the city.

Monday, the Booker family placed a memorial wreath at the entrance to the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, where their brother and son was killed in 2010. Booker’s brother, the Rev. Spencer Booker and his wife, Gail, along with civil rights attorney Darold Killmer, also discussed the meeting in a Monday evening panel sponsored by The Colorado Independent and broadcast on Denver Public Access Channel 57.

Marvin Booker “was a great scholar and theologian and believed in civil rights,” Spencer Booker said. But this small man, just 135 pounds, was taken down by “1,000 pounds of deputies” in the struggle that ended with his death.

The fact the Taser used in Booker’s death likely isn’t the Taser the city produced in evidence came out during the civil trial in 2014. The Booker family has attempted numerous times to discuss the discrepancy with then-Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, Manager of Safety Stephanie O’Malley and even Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, all to no avail. O’Malley and Hancock turned down an opportunity to appear on Monday’s broadcast, as did McCann, who replaced Morrissey in January.

Morrissey declined to bring charges against any of the deputies involved in Booker’s death, a response identical to several other excessive force complaints brought against Denver law enforcement officers. In 2010, the year of Booker’s death, Denver was ranked number one in the country for excessive force complaints.

In the investigation immediately following Booker’s death, Killmer said, the Denver Safety Department was allowed to investigate the Sheriff’s Department which it oversees – a “kangaroo court” proceeding. And in the three-week civil rights trial that followed four years later, the way the city defended the case was, he said, “disgusting.”

“The city intended to convince the jury and community that Marvin Booker was not valuable at all – just a homeless guy that nobody cared about. The jury didn’t believe it.”

Killmer and the Bookers also pointed out that, during the trial, the deputies testified that had they the ability to do it over, they would have handled Booker in the same way. And barely a year after the civil trial, another Denver man, Michael Marshall, was killed in “chillingly similar circumstances,” Killmer said. “They still think this is textbook law enforcement.”

Both Spencer and Gail Booker recounted the trauma of fighting with the city for years for justice. They spoke of the city’s callousness making the family wait nearly a year to see the video of the attack, and then requiring that they – including Marvin’s mother, Roxey Booker Walton – fly in on Mother’s Day to view it. “We want justice, real justice,” Gail Booker said. “We want someone held accountable for their actions.”

Spencer Booker, himself a former chaplain for the Atlanta Police Department, said law enforcement is expected to act with integrity and dignity. What happened in Denver “rocked my world about the blue family,” he said. And he called out the person he called the real perpetrator of his brother’s death: Sgt. Carrie Rodriguez, who administered Taser shock and then, according to the family, somehow disposed of that same Taser weapon.

Killmer added that without a criminal investigation, “there’s no consequences for anyone.”

“Even the lowest level officer didn’t miss a nickel from their paychecks. The culture in Denver is no one is accountable, no one ever gets charged by the district attorney.”

The Booker family, in both the press conference and in the later broadcast, had words of praise for McCann, whom they said expressed her condolences for their loss. The family said she was the first Denver official to do so. “Sometimes simple kindness goes a long way,” Spencer Booker said. “She lifted us with great hope.”

Killmer added that McCann did not commit to opening a criminal investigation but that her office is examining new evidence about irregularities in the Taser evidence. She told The Independent weeks ago that she’s inclined not to reverse Morrissey, her predecessor’s, decision not to prosecute the officers involved.

Spencer Booker said that even his family won’t stop fighting for accountability in the case, even if they have to hand the struggle down to the next generation or the one after that.

“Marvin is still speaking to Denver and I don’t believe he will stop speaking until things get right and justice is served.”

Photo by Marianne Goodland

This story has been updated for further clarification about the facts of Booker’s case and to correct the spelling of Darold Killmer’s name.