Black Marks

The Denver Police Department acts like it has something to hide about its clash with students at Thomas Jefferson High School. It does.

The majority of the students and adult witnesses who later gave accounts to police were consistent in stating that only one fight had broken out and that it was over by the time scores of patrol cars began screaming up to the high school. But Hill and other officers reported a more chaotic scene that included three or four one-on-one fights.

"People kept running up saying, 'There's a fight here. A fight there,'" Hill wrote in her report. "I was running all over, trying to put out small fires."

In written accounts, students and at least two DPS staffers said that after Hill called for help, she issued an impromptu warning to people on the scene. "The black woman off-duty officer said she told all the kids that she was going to call [for reinforcements]," DPS custodial worker Jacquese Satchell told police. "She said, 'You know what they are going to do, because you know those white officers don't want you out here anyway.'" (In her statement, Hill denied using that language. According to her, she simply said, "My boys are coming. You'd better leave.")

One sergeant who answered the call for help said the call went out as a "code 10," indicating the highest level of urgency. "I heard officers there calling for assistance with the background sound of a large, screaming, angry crowd," Sergeant Chris Hoag wrote in his report. "I asked dispatch to ask anyone with the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, Cherry Hills Village and Greenwood Village Police Department to respond." (Officers from other jurisdictions did answer the call but mostly remained on the school's periphery handling traffic.)

Despite the air of desperation conveyed by the radio transmissions, however, the incident didn't really seem to escalate until the police themselves got involved. The flash point, say numerous witnesses, occurred when a police sergeant (later identified by students as Ronald Samson, a 25-year veteran officer) confronted Houston's son Lovell, then sixteen. Lovell and other members of Brotha 2 Brotha had been waiting for the crowd to thin out so they could clean up, as required by their duties as hosts.

"We were going back inside (and inside seemed like the safest place)," Lovell wrote, "and Samson came up and told us to leave." Lovell said he explained that he and the others were with Brotha 2 Brotha and that they were supposed to stay and clean. "I don't care who the fuck you are," Samson reportedly told the youth. "I continued moving away," Lovell wrote, "and [Samson] said, 'Are you fucking deaf?' And he grabbed me by the shoulders and shoved me."

Quentin Jones then jumped to his friend's defense with what Samson described in his report as a profanity-laced tirade. "I touched [Jones's] arm to start him moving, and he pulled his arm away and said, 'Don't touch me!'" Samson wrote. "This incited the crowd, who began yelling at me. [Jones] swung at me with his fists. I grabbed him by the skin of his neck and then by his arm." After wrestling Jones to the ground, Samson wrote, "I struck his legs several times with my baton."

Accounts of the Samson incident given by other officers were not consistent. Officer Joe Hamel, who helped Samson subdue Jones, wrote in his report that he noticed a nightstick in Samson's hand but that he never saw him use it. Sergeant Bill Hoffman claimed in his report that he saw "one party attempt to grab Sergeant Samson's weapon." None of the other officers involved in the incident, including Samson himself, could verify that account.

Gene Roach, who saw the skirmish develop, ran across the yard to stop the assault on Quentin.

"Out of the corner of my eye," Quentin Jones wrote in a report of the incident, "I saw my dad running up. And he said, 'Stop! That's my son! Stop hitting him!' And then he fell on top of me. So they pulled my dad off me and handcuffed him and started hitting him."

Roach said he threw himself on top of his son both to protect him and to restrain him. "The last thing I saw as I was separated from Quentin was a young officer strike Quentin with his fist and forearm on the left side of his face," Roach wrote in his report.

The confrontation involving Quentin and his father apparently confused police, who assumed that Roach, who is white, was fighting with Jones. And the officers' efforts to subdue the two triggered an emotional response from the crowd, already angered by the appearance of dozens of patrol cars and more than sixty officers. The crowd began to close in around Samson, Hamel and their two prisoners. They screamed at the officers to leave Jones alone.

"The other officers and I had to make a protective ring around [Samson, Hamel and a third officer] since the surrounding crowd became violent," wrote rookie officer Jason Moore. "I strongly believe that our lives, mine and the other officers, were seriously in danger."

Ten to fifteen feet away from where the police were struggling with Roach and Jones, Helen Bevill, a DPS staff member and mother of a student attending the dance, was jammed into the parking lot with a hundred other cars. Officers began ordering her to leave, and she would have loved to do so; by then, her passengers--young girls her daughter's age--were crying, and one was near hysteria.

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