The Denver Post
I'd like to believe that any of us would speak out if we watched a man be roughed up and die behind bars. Still, I'm pretty sure we'd hesitate out of self-preservation.
Dozens of people who were waiting to be booked into Denver's jail July 9 witnessed sheriff's deputies restrain Marvin Booker and shock him with a Taser before he went limp on the floor.
Some openly denounced the deputies for the excessive force they're convinced killed Booker right in front of their eyes. Some questioned why, as they tell it, officials ordered an inmate to sweep up and mop the crime scene shortly after the body was rolled away.
A few outspoken critics were promptly shuffled into holding cells where their commentaries couldn't be heard, witnesses tell me. They say an officer then asked if anyone else had anything to add, as if they, too, would be shooed off and silenced.
I wrote last week about Booker's death in the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Facility and the city's refusal to make public any of the videos taken from various angles.
John Hickenlooper has the power to release the footage. City Attorney David Fine now says the mayor "wants the video released, but the DA has insisted that the video not be released while his investigation is pending."
Without the videos or an autopsy report, we can't yet know exactly what killed Booker and need to suspend disbelief as the sheriff's deputies involved keep reporting for duty.
Post is getting consistent eyewitness accounts about the scuffle that led to Booker's death — and about those witnesses feeling too intimidated to come forward. One of them, Phillip Wicks, was waiting to be booked that day for failure to appear on traffic violations. He's 56, has a drug conviction and has worked as a referee for high school sports.
After Booker's death, a city official asked Wicks if he wanted to make a statement.
"I'd just watched them kill a man and sweep it up. As long as I was (in) their custody, I couldn't take the risk," he says.
I'm struck by a moment when witnesses say it was obvious that Booker had no pulse, yet an officer started speaking to his limp body, telling him to stop resisting.
"All of a sudden, the charade had started and they're pretending he's not dead," Wicks says.
After Booker's body was wheeled away with a towel over his face, the same officer insisted to the crowd that he had a faint pulse.
I'm especially curious to see videotapes of the point at which officials scurried to tidy up the scene, according to the witnesses.
"I'm no detective. But I've watched enough 'CSI' to know that this ain't the way it's supposed to be done," Wicks says.
Fine wouldn't comment.
Nearly three weeks after his 20 hours in jail, Wicks is rattled by what happened to the man across from him in the booking area.
"They choked and electrocuted a man right there in front of us. . . . Where's the outrage?" he says.
"If they did that at the dog pound, the people of this city would be up in arms."
Susan Greene writes Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Reach her at 303-954-1989 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
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Thursday, July 29, 2010
The Denver Post