Denver paid $6 million to the family of Marvin Booker, a homeless street preacher who died in the Downtown Detention Center in 2010 while being restrained, but then-District Attorney Mitch Morrissey did not file any charges against deputies in his death.
Now District Attorney Beth McCann, who ran in part on a platform of greater accountability for law enforcement, is asking a Denver grand jury to consider whether criminal charges are appropriate in the case — not for the death itself but for “certain conduct that may have occurred in the aftermath of the incident,” according to a press release.
As the Colorado Independent first reported this summer, Booker’s family has pressed for an investigation into the handling of evidence in the case, in particular the Taser that was used to shock Booker after he was already restrained. Booker had gone into a waiting area to retrieve his shoes, and four deputies used handcuffs, nunchucks and a “sleeper hold” to restrain him. Sgt. Carrie Rodriguez applied a Taser to Booker when he was already handcuffed and being held down on the floor. The entire incident was captured on security video.
The family accuses Rodriguez of turning in a different Taser for analysis as part of the death investigation than the one she actually used, creating the impression that the Taser was deployed for a much shorter period of time. That information was used to inform the DA’s investigation and the decision to neither press charges nor discipline the deputies involved.
Witness testimony and security video suggest the Taser was deployed for 20 to 30 seconds. During the civil case, evidence emerged that a solid chain of custody for the Taser could not be established.
McCann did not say specifically what issues she wants the grand jury to investigate, but she did cite the 2014 federal lawsuit as the source of new information that “justifies an inquiry into possible charges for which the statute of limitations has not yet expired,” according to the press release.
McCann said she is not asking the grand jury to consider homicide charges.
“In general and as a matter of policy, I do not believe it appropriate to re-open my predecessor’s charging decisions without new evidence surfacing,” McCann said in a statement. “There is no new information that would warrant a re-examination of DA Morrissey’s decision not to file homicide charges.”
McCann decided to refer the case to a grand jury because the previous DA had already invested the case and decided not to prosecute. That makes an independent review appropriate.
“This will allow for a complete and thorough review of new questions that have been raised about conduct that took place after the death of Mr. Booker,” McCann said.
Attorney Darold Killmer, who represents the Booker family, said they were “extremely gratified” by the decision to re-open the case.
“The cover up following the killing of Marvin Booker was coordinated and illegal,” Killmer said in an email. “The previous district attorney, Mitch Morrissey, consistently ignored official misconduct and corruption, and Ms. McCann’s decision to take these troubling facts to the grand jury is encouraging. The Denver community deserves better than it has been given for the last 30 or more years. The Booker civil jury sent a strong message that the community is fed up with law enforcement brutality. This decision by the district attorney emphasizes that such misconduct and corruption will no longer be blindly tolerated.”
Killmer said the family only filed a civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages as a last resort. What they’ve wanted all along, he said, was criminal accountability.
“They have always wanted the criminal authoriies to step in and do the right thing,” he said.