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Boardman writes: "On October 14, the jury found that the cops had acted with 'evil motive' toward Rev. Marvin Booker, and the city is ordered to pay $4.6 million to the victim's family."

Marvin Louis Booker. (photo: AP)
Marvin Louis Booker. (photo: AP)

Cops' Killing of Homeless Preacher to Cost Denver $4.6 Million

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

23 October 14


Federal jury’s three-week trial verdict: police had “evil motive”

urveillance video shows the large, open booking room of Denver’s brand new Downtown Detention Center, shortly after 3:30 a.m. on July 9, 2010. It shows Denver County sheriff’s deputies grabbing and killing an unarmed, shoeless black man in a public place for no good reason. More than four years later, an all-white, seven-member federal jury has now delivered a verdict against the cops and the city of Denver. On October 14, the jury found that the cops had acted with “evil motive” toward Rev. Marvin Booker, and the city is ordered to pay $4.6 million to the victim’s family.

Despite the evidence of police murderousness so clear on surveillance video from several angles, the city prosecutor refused to bring any charges in the case, and the city hierarchy has stonewalled acceptance of any responsibility for four years. A federal judge has twice sanctioned the city for withholding evidence. The city’s “defense” in court consisted largely of character assassination of the dead victim. The city has not yet said whether it will appeal the jury verdict.

Denver is broken, as this case illustrates. Denver officials from the top down have shown a stunning willingness to deny obvious factual evidence, and an even more disheartening lack of empathy for the victim and his family that continues to the present. From 2004 to early 2014, Denver paid more than $16 million in settlements for the behavior of its police and sheriff’s department, mostly for violence of civil rights abuses. That was after things started to get better. From 2000 to 2002, Denver paid $14.4 million to settle similar lawsuits. In 2013 alone, the Denver district attorney spent $616,100 hiring outside counsel to help with the caseload.

Now the city owes another $4.6 million for a killing. In August, Denver settled a jail brutality case for $3.25 million. What’s wrong with Denver is not unique. From New York to Los Angeles, from Chicago to New Orleans, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Thetford, Vermont, outbreaks of police violence leave innocent people dead and the killings unredressed. In late 2011, the U.S. Justice Department was in the midst of investigating 17 different police departments, “more than at any time in the division’s history,” according to a Civil Rights Division attorney. Three years later, the numbers are worse.

Police reality is different from everyone else’s reality

While the Booker trial was in progress, Denver Sheriff’s deputies rallied outside the downtown jail, blaming city officials for making them afraid to use force, “creating a dangerous climate behind bars.” According to a 22-year veteran sergeant, “The deputies are afraid to do their jobs.” Rally organizers also blamed the media.

The distance between the reality perceived by the federal jury in the Booker case and reality as perceived by police is huge and apparently unbridgeable. The day after the jury verdict in the Booker trial, the Colorado State Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police, had nothing to say about the verdict or the recklessly lethal behavior of the deputies involved. Instead it posted a paean to self-pity by a Wisconsin police lieutenant that began:

Today, I stopped caring about my fellow man. I stopped caring about my community, my neighbors, and those I serve. I stopped caring today because a once noble profession has become despised, hated, distrusted, and mostly unwanted. I stopped caring today because parents refuse to teach their kids right from wrong and blame us when they are caught breaking the law. I stopped caring today because….

Another current aspect of police response to instances of police wrongdoing is a scare campaign called “Save Public Safety,” with a rationale that says: “special interest groups are using Public Employees as scapegoats…. The safety of every citizen of the United States is threatened as Public Safety jobs are eliminated….”

In the context of the Marvin Booker case, this perception is factual nonsense, but the feeling behind it may be a sincere emotion. They need to be sorted out.

Rev. Marvin Booker was the “different one” in a family of ministers

The July 9, 2010, surveillance video that is publicly available exists in several versions, from different cameras at different angles, lasting almost 20 minutes. The city has “lost” some of the video that should exist. The entire event, from the time that Marvin Booker is called to the desk to the time he is left unconscious or dead in his cell is less than six minutes.

In 2010, Marvin Booker was well known to Denver police and jail personnel, that’s why they called him a “frequent flier.” They knew him as street preacher with a number of arrests, they knew him as a 56-year-old homeless man who was hostile to police, and they knew him as a 5-foot 5-inch, 135-pound black man with a long-standing crack cocaine habit. He also had a heart condition, an enlarged heart, and emphysema. Booker was in the holding pit of the booking area that early morning, having been arrested on a warrant issued when he had failed to show up for a court appearance to answer a charge of drug possession. By the time the last six minutes of his life began, he had been waiting for hours, he had taken off his shoes, and he had fallen asleep, waiting to be called.

According to the Denver Dept. of Safety, “Marvin Booker had over 60 arrests in the City and County of Denver.” The public arrest record provided by the department lists precisely 60 dates when Marvin Booker was charged with one or more offenses. The first is a single charge of threatening to injure persons or property in 1938, roughly 16 years before Booker was born. The other 59 dates are within his lifetime, starting in 1976. The three most recent, in 2010 (tw0) and 2008 (one), are single charges for possession of drug paraphernalia, as is the next most recent charge in 2002, which was dismissed. Before that, Booker was arrested six times in 2000; three times on drug charges, two of which were dismissed.

More than half of Booker’s arrests, 40 in all, occurred between 1988 and 1994. In addition to drug charges on 15 occasions beginning in 1988, Booker was also charged with loitering (8 times), trespass (8), and disturbing the peace (12). It is clear from the record that a number of these arrests were not prosecuted, but the Denver Dept. of Safety does not keep track of whether arrests result in conviction. However, public information of this sort was enough to persuade at least one Denver Post reporter to refer to Booker, soon after his death, as a “habitual criminal,” a term of art that appears in the Denver PD rap sheet three times in 2000 and 2002, but not later. The reporter also referred to Booker as “an ordained minister who served the poor,” mentioning that Booker helped distribute food and worked in soup kitchens as a volunteer.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. changed Marvin Louis Booker’s life

Rev. Marvin Louis Booker spent much of his childhood in Memphis, Tennessee, part of a family of southern preachers who were active in the civil rights movement. His father, Rev. Benjamin Roosevelt Booker Sr., (1920-2013), was 82 at the time of Marvin’s death and said then: “It seems like the officers have a license to kill. The officers ought to protect you, not kill you.” Rev. Booker was arrested himself in 1968, for an act of nonviolent civil disobedience in support of the Memphis sanitation workers strike. At the time, the African Methodist Episcopal pastor headed the historic Clayborn Temple AME Church, which served as a strategy center for the striking Memphis workers and for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others who came to support them.

Marvin Booker grew up in a family with his four brothers and two sisters. He was 14 when King was shot and killed in Memphis. In response to that trauma, Marvin Booker started memorizing King’s speeches and performing them publicly, including the “I Have A Dream” speech. He wrote a book about King and sold it on the street. He was once arrested for collecting money for reciting King’s speeches at the site of his assassination in Memphis. He eventually became a minister, as did three of his four brothers: Rev. Calvin Booker of Memphis, Rev. David Booker of Nashville, and Rev. Spencer Booker of Kansas City, Missouri. As reported by Susan Greene in the Colorado Independent:

Booker spent much of his youth and early adulthood reciting King’s speeches at churches and civil rights events throughout the South. His brothers, like their father, became pastors of large congregations. But Booker took a decidedly different path – preaching, and living, on the streets. It’s the way Jesus did it, he explained to the large, supportive family who did what they could to give him a home, help him kick his drug habit and earn a steady paycheck. But Booker wanted none of it. No address. No pulpit. So he spent years on the streets, where he felt the message of the gospels were needed most.

Surveillance video unambiguous: cops pile on helpless man, kill him

Officer Douglas Grove arrested Marvin Booker at approximately 7:30 p.m. on July 8, 2010, and took him to the District 2 police station. Grove said Booker was “very agitated” during that transport, but there was no incident. Later police took Booker to the jail, where he waited for several hours. During that time, no one said he was “agitated” or otherwise noteworthy. During photographing and fingerprinting, Booker was being a “’smart Alec,” according to Deputy W. Lovato, who jollied Booker along and got him to laugh. During medical screening, Booker was hostile and uncooperative, so Nurse Gail George left the screening unfinished. She told Booker that he should tell her about any medical condition. She said Booker’s reaction was not unusual.

At about 3:34 a.m. on July 9, 2010, Deputy Faun Gomez called Booker’s name, apparently waking him up. Surveillance video shows Booker getting up from his chair in the booking pit and walking with all deliberate speed to the booking desk where Gomez is waiting. Booker’s shoes are clearly visible on the floor in front of the chair where he was sitting, directly in Gomez’s line of sight and not 15 feet from her.

There is no sound on the video. Reportedly Gomez asked Booker to sit. He remained standing, possibly cursing, looking in his pockets for something, but making no threatening gestures. In less than ten seconds, Gomez was bolting from her seat and ordering him into a cell at the side of the large room. Booker gestured toward Gomez and started walking back the way he had come. Witnesses later said that he said he was going back to get his shoes. Gomez, who has a record of violently over-reacting, said she didn’t notice he was in his socks.

She rushed after him, her left hand grabbing Booker as he was going down the two steps into the holding area, almost knocking him over. She kept him from falling by grabbing his jacket with both hands. Blindsided from behind, Booker pulled away from Gomez and defensively resisted her continued grabbing at him. He did not strike out at her. Within five seconds of the first grab by Gomez, a second deputy had grabbed Booker and a third and a fourth and a fifth quickly followed. Less than 20 seconds after the first grab, Booker was helpless on the floor, obscured from the camera by the four deputies on top of him.

During the next four minutes, one deputy put Booker in a chokehold and held it most of that time. Face down on the ground, Booker, who had emphysema, gasped for breath. Other deputies handcuffed him. Another used a nunchuck on his legs, causing abrasions. Then someone got a taser and a deputy tasered him. Booker had stopped moving much earlier.

Less than five minutes after Deputy Gomez grabbed Rev. Booker, four deputies carried his limp body, head first and face down, into the same cell he was headed for after he got his shoes. In the cell, a deputy sat on him for another minute or two. His shoes were still by his chair. Reportedly, the deputies (off camera) high-fived each other and went outside to smoke. When medical help was eventually called, Booker was already dead. Booker was pronounced dead at 4:33 a.m., at Denver Health and Medical Center.

After this killing, the Sheriff’s department stopped using the chokehold.

Law enforcement stonewalling started at once, with official silence

The Denver Police Department promptly started an “investigation” that served as a credible basis for officials to refuse to comment on the killing-by-cop. The Denver Post soon found two witnesses, men who were also waiting to be booked at the time and who had not been interviewed by police investigators. Each of the witnesses was within a few feet of the deputy pile on Booker. The police refused to release the video, but the two witness accounts described what the video would later show.

Denver went into denial mode, blaming the victim and leaving the perpetrators in their jobs while the “investigation” proceeded. Shortly before the release of the coroner’s report, the deputies were placed on paid leave. The coroner’s report on August 20, 2010, ruled that Booker’s death was a homicide, meaning that he died because of other people’s actions, not of natural causes. The coroner’s report described the video (still being withheld from the public) and his description matched up with eyewitness accounts. The coroner observed that Booker was “well muscled like a boxer.” The coroner found cocaine in Booker’s system, but below a toxic level.

Confronted with a coroner’s report of a homicide, Denver district attorney Mitch Morissey took another month to decide not to file any criminal charges against any of the deputies who had taken part in Booker’s killing. In a 13-page statement released September 28, the D.A. blamed Booker’s death on Booker, and found that all the force used against him was justified. In an exercise worthy of Rashomon, where different witnesses describe the same event radically differently, Morrissey wrote in part:

This incident occurred in the open-seating area of the new Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, where forty-six arrestees were waiting to be processed into the jail…. Uncooperative, non-compliant, and hostile arrestees pose a risk to all jail personnel and arrestees in this open-seating area…. This is not an environment in which arrestees can disregard directions and do as they please….

Mr. Booker was described, and is shown on the videos of the event, to be non-compliant, hostile, profane, and violent toward the female deputy who was attempting to process him into the facility. Mr. Booker made the specific choice not to follow the deputy’s lawful and proper orders, loudly raised his voice and cursed at her—“You F__ing Bitch”, ignored her directions, and walked away from her toward the open seating area. Then, for reasons known only to Mr. Booker, he chose to violently resist the female deputy when she tried to contact, control and guide him to the secure cell away from the other arrestees in the open-seating area. It was the combination of these aggressive, non-compliant behaviors by Mr. Booker that drew the attention of other sheriff deputies who came to her aid to control Mr. Booker. His continued hostility, non-compliance and resistance, of necessity, caused the deputies to apply physical force on him in an effort to control him, move him to a secure cell and restore order….

The district attorney does not address the possibility that the best way to have maintained order would have been for Deputy Faun Gomez, with a record of volatile hostility, not to have been booking arrestees at all. Or for Gomez to have simply let Booker get his shoes. Or for Gomez not to have grabbed Booker, almost knocking him down the two steps to the holding area. Even though this new jail was designed as a new style “soft intake” facility, Morrissey continues to bring an old style hard-nosed attitude to it, a hard-nosed attitude embodied in Deputy Gomez’s rigid and angry inflexibility.

Denver managed to drag out the court process three and a half years

In February 2011, the Booker family filed its federal lawsuit, hoping a jury would view the surveillance video differently from the district attorney. By then the deputies who killed Marvin Booker were still on paid leave. By then the sheriff had made it clear that he was taking no internal disciplinary action as a result of the in-custody death. By then the city had still not turned over the surveillance video, and the Bookers’ attorney was calling on the court to end the “coverup.”

On May 9, 2011, the Denver Dept. of Safety issued a 40-page “PUBLIC STATEMENT OF THE MANAGER OF SAFETY REGARDING THE IN-CUSTODY DEATH OF MARVIN L. BOOKER AT THE VAN CISE-SIMONET DETENTION CENTER ON JULY 9, 2010,” the essence of which was that nobody working for Denver did anything wrong, it was all Booker’s fault. This was the final clearance of criminal charges for the deputies, allowing them to return to work. The city also released most of the surveillance tape. In response to this report, the Booker family asked the FBI to investigate Marvin Booker’s death. The May 9 statement is one of 24 statements the Dept. of Safety has issued since 2004 relating to Denver shootings and other in-custody deaths.

As the Bookers’ lawsuit proceeded, Denver continued to stonewall, refusing to settle, and refusing to respond to court orders to turn over evidence. Eventually Denver turned over 15 CDs of evidence to the Bookers on the day the trial began. The city sought declaratory judgment in its favor, which a federal district court denied.

Federal appeals court to Denver: you have to prove your case

Denver appealed that decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court’s ruling against the city. In the course of a 59-page decision on March 11, 2014, the court wrote, among other things:

Our analysis therefore accepts Mr. Booker did not resist during the vast majority of the encounter. The Defendants argue the video evidence belies this conclusion, but they are mistaken. In fact, the video, which shows Mr. Booker motionless on the floor while the deputies subdue him, contradicts the Defendants’ assertion that Mr. Booker consistently resisted them….

First, all Defendants actively participated in a coordinated use of force on Mr. Booker…. Because the Defendants here engaged in a group effort, a reasonable jury could find them liable for any underlying finding of excessive force….

Second, even if a single deputy’s use of force was not excessive, “a law enforcement official who fails to intervene to prevent another law enforcement official’s use of excessive force may be liable…. Thus, even if one of the defendant deputies did not use excessive force, a reasonable jury could nonetheless find on this record that he or she violated Mr. Booker’s clearly established rights by not taking steps to prevent other deputies’ excessive force….

The evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, shows the deputies used various types of force—including substantial pressure on his back, a taser, and a carotid neckhold—on Mr. Booker while he was not resisting. Because Mr. Booker was handcuffed and on his stomach, we conclude the force was not proportional to the need presented….

In light of the foregoing, a reasonable jury could conclude that the Defendants’ use of substantial pressure on Mr. Booker’s back, a two-minute carotid hold on his neck, and a taser while Mr. Booker was subdued and struggling to breathe in a prone position demonstrated the requisite level of culpability for a due process violation….

To be clear, our decision is based on what a reasonable jury could find, not what a reasonable jury will find. As the district court found, this case is rife with disputed fact issues—many of which surround the Plaintiffs’ claim for failure to provide medical care.

On October 14, Denver learned what at least one presumably reasonable jury made of the evidence: that it should cost the city $4.6 million, but not the $$15 million the Booker family had sought.

As to the larger question of police behavior in general, one assumes it’s true that the majority of cops are as good and decent people as anyone else, but that’s not really good enough for people armed with guns, trained to kill, and too rarely held to account when they make a mistake. There are too many examples of cops who don’t know what they’re doing, or who they’re doing it to, and if good cops truly want to be honored and respected again, they need to take some responsibility for seeking justice when their peers kill people.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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