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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

EDITORIAL: Denver jail death needs full scrutiny

July 27, 2010
The Times Call

The recent death of an inmate at the new Denver County jail has raised serious questions about the behavior and decisions of public employees at the jail during the incident.

According to The Denver Post, Marvin Booker, 56, died shortly after being shot with a Taser repeatedly in an altercation with jail personnel. Two witnesses, both of whom were at the jail because they’d been arrested, told essentially the same story, according to the Post story. Neither witness was characterized as a career criminal.

The incident began at the jail early in the morning on July 9, according to the Post. The witnesses say Booker was sleeping in a chair in a holding area when his name was called at about 3 a.m. A sleepy Booker walked to the processing desk without his shoes. A female deputy asked him to sit in a chair by the desk but he said he wanted to stand. When Booker went to get his shoes, the deputy repeatedly told him to stop, then tried to restrain Booker, who pushed her away. Four other deputies wrestled Booker to the concrete floor. A fifth deputy put Booker in a headlock while a female deputy began shocking him.

Booker was heard to say he couldn’t breath. The deputies left him lying facedown on the floor of a holding cell but didn’t check his pulse. He was pronounced dead later that morning.

One witness told the newspaper, “What I saw is not what you’d expect to see in America.”

There are further disturbing aspects to this story that must be fully investigated.

Booker, described as a homeless, ordained minister who worked with poor people, did not have a spotless record, to be sure. He had what was described as a string of arrests. He was in jail on this occasion on suspicion of possession of drug paraphernalia.

The public should demand a full, fair and independent investigation. This seems like a needless death and a situation that most likely could have been approached differently and more professionally. The public interest in this case will be much better served if a videotape of the incident and other evidence does not become “lost,” as has happened before.

If Denver authorities do not conduct a fair and independent investigation, then the Colorado attorney general should step in as soon as possible. Federal authorities should also keep a close eye on this situation in Denver. Federal involvement may be needed to get to the truth and to make necessary recommendations for improved jail operations.

Law enforcement work is among the toughest and most dangerous jobs. According to the newspaper, a female deputy was treated at a hospital for an injury sustained in the incident.

But there still is right and wrong.

Government authority in the United States, whether in a jail, prison or on the street, is not absolute authority.

Maybe something can be learned form this sad and unnecessary incident. One thing is clear. The administration of the Denver County Jail must be forthcoming with the facts and must vastly improve its operations immediately. The residents of Denver and the people of Colorado deserve no less.

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