Do Tell

Notorious Denver informant Mark Tibbs has finked his way through a lot of cases. But can he talk his way out of this one?

Tibbs, irate, complained to authorities that his incarceration was improper. In a May 1990 letter to the court mailed shortly after his return to prison, he protested that he was being held illegally. Not only that, he added, he'd continued to work with Detective Wallis and other officers even while he was behind bars and had chalked up an arrest "toll" of 27 criminals.

How much weight the court put on Tibbs's arguments is unclear, but he was released from prison in September 1990, a month before a scheduled hearing on the matter. And from that point forward, Tibbs couldn't seem to get sideways with the police no matter what he did.

According to Colorado Bureau of Investigation records, he was arrested ten times between September 1, 1990, and December 1994, picked up for assault, making threats, theft, interfering with police, making false reports, disturbing the peace and domestic violence. However, court files show that only two charges resulted in jail time--a traffic offense and one for narcotics possession--and that he served a total of just three days for those. A February 1995 arrest for drug possession didn't earn him any time at all, while a guilty plea to attempted theft got him a year of "unsupervised probation."

There was no secret about why he was untouchable, Tibbs maintains. He was snitching, and snitching a lot. In fact, his mother claims that some of his arrests were mere covers to protect his identity as an informant; the cases were dropped, she says, before they even got close to going to trial.

Defense attorneys know the score when it comes to handling snitches: To law enforcement officials, they're worth their weight in gold, even if they're less than solid citizens. After all, notes one attorney, "you're not going to find an angel to do this stuff."

In his formative years as a snitch, Tibbs helped police go after lower-level felons. But by the mid-1990s, he had graduated to the upper echelons of criminal behavior. He earned his diploma as a master blabber in the months following March 30, 1995, when a drive-by shooting left 21-year-old Charles Baker dead and Mikecail Edlow, also 21, wounded.

For Baker and Edlow, it was a case of being in the wrong place in the wrong gang colors. The neighborhood around the 3200 block of St. Paul Street had been claimed years ago as Crips territory. The two young men belonged to a rival gang. When Crips leader Orlando "Little O" Domena was told that the two men were on his turf, he jumped in his car, tracked them down and shot them.

Up until then, the reformation of Little O had been a pet project of Denver police chief Dave Michaud and police sergeant Judy Will, who had included the gang member in "gang summits" and helped him to enroll in college ("How to Coddle a Crip," June 7, 1995). But what Tibbs saw that March day spelled the end of Domena's pampering.

Tibbs had been at Domena's place shortly before Baker and Edlow were gunned down. He'd gone there to buy some crack, he says matter-of-factly, spilling out his story in a day room at the Douglas County Jail. Tibbs was still in the area when he saw Domena and fellow Crip Darryl Givens run from the house. Domena, Tibbs claims, was carrying what looked to be a nine-millimeter handgun. Tibbs says he watched Domena's car turn the corner and then he heard shots ring out. "I turned them in," he says.

After Givens and Domena were arrested and charged with the shooting, Tibbs says, "the Crips decided they were going to keep me from testifying. They cut wires at the back of my mother's house--the electric, the phone." According to Tibbs, the Denver District Attorney's office then moved him to an apartment near Colfax Avenue and High Street. "They paid the rent and everything," he says. (Deputy DA Tim Twining confirms that his office "relocated" Tibbs, but he says his office's largesse generally extends only to covering rental deposits.)

When Tibbs testified at Domena's preliminary hearing that June, his performance on the witness stand was notable as much for his state of mind as for his statements. After prosecutors led him through his version of events, Tibbs admitted under oath during cross-examination that he was feeling a tad under the weather. He had, he told defense attorneys, downed a fifth of gin, drunk a bottle of beer and smoked crack the day before the hearing.

Despite the efforts of the district attorney's office to protect its star witness before Domena's trial, Tibbs says the Crips managed to ferret him out anyway. "I was starting to have some problems," he says. "They were watching my comings and goings. I explained to [the DA's office] that they knew where I lived, so they moved me again." This time, he says, prosecutors put him up in an apartment south of I-225, where they felt he was less likely to run into the uptown gangsters.

As it turned out, Tibbs didn't have to testify at Domena's March 1996 trial. The authorities wanted Domena so much, Tibbs says, "that they offered to drop all charges against Givens if he told them Orlando did it. What man wouldn't go for that?" Givens turned against his friend, and Domena got life plus twenty years. Givens walked away a free man. The Denver DA's office offered to help him relocate to another city after his testimony, but Givens declined the offer. He should have taken it.

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