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.

Although it was obvious that Bevill's car was boxed in, she later wrote in a statement that "[police] hit my car from front to back" in an attempt to force her out of the parking lot.

When Bevill was able to get free of the gridlock, she pulled her car around to the front of the school and parked. As a parent and staffer, she was torn between the desire to put the scene miles behind her and to stay and help the frightened students who were running past her. Bevill wrote that officers chased students up the school's steps and demanded that those already inside get out of the building.

When she determined that she could do nothing--and that the girls in her car required her attention--Bevill got back in her car and drove away. "I just prayed all the way home that someone, especially God, was looking out for them," Bevill wrote. "I felt the police were out of control and probably scared themselves, but a lot of this was uncalled for. I hope there is some justice, not just for the community's sake but for our kids' sake. They are the ones that will have to deal with this for the rest of their lives."

That officers were frightened is obvious; at least three of them hit the emergency indicators on their radios. Those devices, to be used only in dire situations, send out a distress signal, notifying other cars that an officer needs assistance. According to patrolman Anthony Martinez, "Whenever an officer would make an arrest, he or she would immediately be surrounded by twenty or thirty verbally abusive people from the mob." Bill Hoffman described being surrounded by an angry crowd after he tried to arrest an "obviously intoxicated" Jonathan Hopkins, Jessie's brother. He was rescued, he said, only after "a black female got the crowd to back off."

One of the drivers caught in the gridlock that held Bevill's car captive was Jessie Hopkins, whose fistfight with Bruce Mingo had started the whole thing. Hopkins had made it to his car, but with squad cars blocking the driveways and hundreds of students running in all directions, it was almost impossible to get away. Hopkins stopped his car near the end of a driveway and began honking his horn in an attempt to get officers to move out of his way. He and at least three passengers in his car later told police that the horn-honking prompted Ronald Samson to whack the car's fender with his nightstick. Samson, however, wrote that Hopkins was revving his engine, and he said he "felt threatened" as a result. According to Samson's report, he "tapped the front fender" of Hopkins's vehicle with his baton "to get his attention."

That angered Hopkins. And Hopkins apparently angered Samson when he leaned out the window and asked him what the hell he was doing. "As I walked up to the driver's door," Samson wrote, "[Hopkins] was screaming and flailing around. He was completely out of control. I started to open the door to take him out, as I wasn't going to let him drive in that condition."

Within seconds, however, other officers began pulling Hopkins from the car through the open window. "I was pulled out of the car and hit in the head and stomach and arrested for interference when I was going home," Hopkins wrote in a police report. "I'm eighteen, and I had to stay in jail because I was trying to go home."

Herman Houston witnessed the altercation between Samson and Hopkins, and he adamantly rejects Samson's version of events. Hopkins didn't rev his engine, Houston says. "I was right there," he insists. "If he'd done that, I would have jumped back."

With Hopkins out of the car and out of the picture, officers ordered one of his passengers, a sixteen-year-old girl named Myia Gilkey, to move the car; the fact that she had no driver's license was apparently of no concern to them. "They told me they'd take me to jail if I didn't leave," Gilkey later told police. The teenager subsequently piloted the car and its passengers across town to north-central Denver, where Hopkins lives.

By this time, Herman Houston notes, he was spending most of his time trying to defuse emerging problems between the kids and the cops. "I almost felt like a M.A.S.H. doctor," he says. "I'd look at a [student] and say, 'He's not going to make it,' and then go on to where I was needed and could help." Those who were under arrest, like Hopkins--and later, Jessie's brother Jonathan--he deemed "too late to help."

Houston was also trying to keep tabs on his own sons, who had attended the dance. But that wasn't easy. "There were cops in the building telling kids to get out, and police were in the parking lot, hitting kids and telling them to go back in the building," Houston says. "There was only one way out of the parking lot, because the police cars were blocking the exits. There was never a safe haven. I heard them say, 'Get the hell out of here, nigger!' But there was no place for that 'nigger' to go."

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