Jailers won't be disciplined for Denver homicide

AP News
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Posted: May 09, 2011 9:28 PM
Jailers won't be disciplined for Denver homicide

Five sheriff's deputies won't be disciplined for their involvement in the death of a street preacher at Denver's jail, even though the coroner ruled it a homicide.

An investigation concluded that the deputies did not violate the department's use of force policy or any other department rules related to the death of 56-year-old Marvin Booker, Manager of Safety Charles Garcia said. Booker died after deputies subdued him in the booking area at Denver's downtown jail after authorities said he cursed at a female deputy and refused to follow orders.

"The death of Mr. Booker while in custody is a tragic event for everyone," Garcia said.

In a 43-page public statement, the department said that deputies were reasonable in believing that he could harm a deputy and that physical force was necessary to maintain order and discipline. Authorities also released video of the jailhouse scuffle.

Booker died July 9 after the five deputies tried to subdue him by getting on top of him, placing him in a "sleeper" hold and shocking him with a stun gun after he had been handcuffed.

Some of the 40 inmates in the booking area, which looks like a waiting room, told investigators that Booker said he wanted to get his shoes. Authorities said a guard didn't hear that, and it was difficult to tell whether Booker had his shoes on because he was wearing black socks.

Rev. Spencer Booker of Kansas City, Mo., said his brother had a habit of taking off his shoes as homage to the civil rights movement. Booker had been arrested for investigation of possession of drug paraphernalia and had already posted bail when he died, his brother said.

"I didn't see what they saw," said Booker, who drove overnight to Denver for the announcement and release of the video. "I don't see how these officers could be cleared... He was literally gang killed. And it's unfortunate that this is the kind of behavior that we will allow to take place.

"That these officers can do this is frightening for the citizens, it's frightening for the visitors that would come to your city to know that it's OK for these officers to do that and actually, actually, actually, use excessive force and go back to work."

A civil lawsuit seeking unspecified monetary damages is pending.

A coroner's report said Booker died of cardiorespiratory arrest during restraint and ruled his death a homicide. The report said the deputies had their body weight on Booker's back for four minutes while he was face-down on the floor but also found other factors in his death, including emphysema, an enlarged heart and recent cocaine use. The report also noted that Booker did not have any bruises, cuts or broken bones or other injuries except for scrapes on his wrists and ankles from restraining devices.

The surveillance video, which has no sound, shows three deputies wrestling Booker onto some chairs, then down to the floor before two other deputies join the fray. One deputy puts his arm around Booker's neck in a carotid "sleeper" hold, which is meant to cut off circulation to his head and disorient him or render him unconscious. It appears the guard had his arm around Booker's neck for about three minutes.

Sheriff's investigators interviewed several inmates who corroborated deputies' statements that during the struggle they were ordering Booker to stop resisting.

Officials said that the 5-foot-5, 135-pound Booker was cursing and trying to put his hands beneath his body. A guard warned him before shocking him with a stun gun, but by that time he had already been handcuffed, officials said.

Gary Wilson, an undersheriff who oversees the jail, said Booker was kicking after being handcuffed and stopped after he was shocked.

"I don't really understand how anyone can blame the victim for his death," said the Rev. Timothy Tyler, pastor at the Shorter Community AME Church who denounced the decision afterward. "If that's acceptable behavior in the Denver jail, where a man gets killed before he's restrained, then something has to change."

In declining to file charges, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey in September wrote that "arrestee compliance is not optional, it is mandatory."

Wilson has banned the carotid sleeper hold in the jail and a review of the use of force policy is under way. Wilson said Booker's death is the first at Denver's jails involving excessive force.

The announcement follows the firings in April and March of four police officers accused of using excessive force in incidents caught on the city's video surveillance system. In one case, two officers allegedly lied about using a billy club to shove some women to the ground and spray a woman on her knees, as well as a crowd, with mace.

Two other officers were fired in March for deceptive acts involving the high profile beating of a man outside a Denver nightclub. The public release of the videotape, as well as the then manager of safety's refusal to fire those officers, led to the manager of safety's resignation.

Denver's independent police monitor, a post established in 2005 after a rash of fatal officer-involved shootings, had been vocal in denouncing previous investigations involving police officers and the lack of discipline. Richard Rosenthal said the investigation was thorough and complete and he said he supported Garcia's decision not to discipline the deputies.

"I'm not shy about being willing to criticize," Rosenthal said. "In this case, I support the manager's decision."