The Denver coroner has ruled that the July 9 death of an inmate at the new jail was the result of homicide.
Marvin Booker was being processed on a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia when he got into a scuffle with jail deputies. He was shocked with a Taser device, placed in a chokehold and held to the floor as jail deputies piled on top.
Other inmates said Booker, 56, who was listed as 175 pounds in Denver court records but was actually 5-foot-5 and 135 pounds, was then carried to the holding cell at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Facility and dropped face fir5 st. He never recovered.
The coroner’s finding means simply that another human being caused Booker’s death, rather than from natural causes, suicide or an accident. It is not the coroner’s role to determine who might have caused the death or whether the homicide was justifiable.
The Denver district attorney’s office is investigating Booker’s death to determine if criminal charges should be filed against the deputies involved, who are on paid vacations until the matter is settled. I would like to believe that someone will be held responsible for this man’s senseless death, but I’m not holding my breath. If it had been private citizens who dog-piled a homeless person and caused him to suffocate, they’d already be in jail and facing murder charges. But when it’s five deputies who are caught on video smothering a small man who had been arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia (itself a non-crime), suddenly it’s more important to “review policy.” And maybe they’ll, you know, be disciplined.
When do we stop giving cops the benefit of the doubt? When they do this? (Note how the camera, which is operated by the Denver police, pans away right after the cop slams the man talking on his cell phone to the pavement. Also note that this is just now gaining scrutiny, even though the beating took place in April 2009.)
Or this? What heinous crime did this person commit to warrant such a vicious beatdown? He stopped to talk to the motorist the police had pulled over, offering to be a witness if needed. Can’t have citizens communicating with each other!
In years past the media, and most people, might have given cops the benefit of the doubt. After all, video evidence was scant or non-existent, and our faithful public servants would provide a very plausible rationale for a suspect’s injuries. He “resisted arrest” or made “a threatening gesture”. He may have even had a gun! Who are we to question them?
But we’re on to them, now. Even the cops’ own video cameras betray them. And anyone with a cell phone is now a threat to their violent hegemony. Is it any wonder that the police are clamoring to make recording them illegal?
In the meantime, the cops you see in these videos are still on the force, although their actions are being reviewed…again. But as long as they are on the streets, none of us who live in Denver is safe.