By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
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By Melanie Asmar
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By Michael Roberts
The Let Out dance wasn't exactly what city fathers had in mind when they created the Lower Downtown Historic District in 1988. Planners had envisioned a more sedate entertainment zone coupled with a real-estate turnaround, fueled by upscale restaurants and warehouse loft conversions. But the arrival of Coors Field in 1995 had brought an influx of giant sports bars, and some of them quickly morphed into dance clubs, extending the newfound vibrancy of the area into the wee hours. Club Bash, for example, had started out as the Blake Street Baseball Club, a huge open-air bar with a grass infield, then was transformed into the LoDo Music Hall. In 1998 the operators changed the name to Bash and began marketing to the eighteen-to-twenty crowd with a mix of deejayed music that, over time, became increasingly focused on hip-hop.
By the time Dilley became the district commander, the situation was getting out of control. Lieutenant Davis had prepared a memo noting a surge in weekend violence in the summer of 2003, most of it going down in the general area of Bash and another hip-hop venue, the Russian Palace at 1800 Glenarm:
July 5, 2:10 a.m., 1800 block of Market, stabbing. July 12, 1:53 a.m., 1800 block of Market, shots fired. July 23, 2 a.m., 16th & Market, shooting, four victims, one arrest. August 2, 1:54 a.m., 1800 block of Market, shots fired. August 9, 3 a.m., 19th & Glenarm, shooting, one victim, no arrest. August 15, 1 a.m., 1500 block of Market, shots fired. August 16, 12 a.m., 20th & Chestnut, shooting, one victim, no arrests. August 16, 1:39 a.m., 1800 block of Market, shooting, 1 victim, three arrests. August 16, 3 a.m., 19th & Glenarm, shots fired, running gun battle between two cars. August 30, 1:45 a.m., 1900 block of Market, shots fired, no victims, one arrest.
To Davis, it was obvious that the problems were more complicated than simply a tide of alcohol and testosterone pouring into the streets. While most of the clubs did an adequate job of policing their own premises, some were also attracting a gang element — and a significant number of the troublemakers weren't even bothering to go into the clubs, where they might be frisked, but were waiting outside to be seen, to settle scores, to get something started.
"We have experienced a large number of individuals who gather in the parking lots in the 1800 block of Market in order to meet with the out crowd from The Bash," Davis wrote. "There appears to be a direct correlation in the number of reports of violent acts...and the format of the music being played at these clubs (ie: hip-hop) on the nights in question."
During her first months on the job, Dilley concentrated on what she considered some of the most troublesome areas, including the hip-hop clubs and nearby parking lots. Shortly after the "running gun battle between two cars" on Glenarm that summer, the Russian Palace dropped its hip-hop format. The parking lot in the 1800 block of Market, then operated by a company called Interpark, agreed to hire security guards for Friday and Saturday nights. The guards would have the authority to sign criminal trespass complaints, which Dilley regarded as a huge step; since the lot was private property, the police otherwise had little authority to intervene unless they witnessed a crime taking place.
But changing the chemistry of an operation as large as Club Bash was another matter. Alcohol and large crowds of adults from widely different backgrounds was a heady mix to start with; wooing eighteen-year-old females and thrusting them into close proximity with much older clubbers just added more fuel. Michael Bertinelli, the club's director of operations, would later acknowledge to Casados's lawyers that costume contests like the Boo Bash, which "compelled the girls to dress scantily," was "our typical M.O."
Dilley and Davis couldn't dictate format to the club. Their officers couldn't be everywhere at once, either, and frequently felt outgunned.
"Honestly, unless you've been down there, it's hard to describe just how you can sense the tension in the air," Davis would later recall in a deposition. "Some nights we would stand there and go, you know, 'It's not feeling good tonight.'"
One night Davis was standing in the 1800 block of Market when a young man twenty feet away from her pulled out a gun and started shooting into the crowd. Officers chased him down and arrested him, but the incident left Davis wondering. If someone is going to open fire with cops right there, what would it take to stop them?
The hazards of the club scene made headlines during Dilley's first summer on the job. On June 14, 2004, a group of eleven young black men went on a crime spree in the late-night crowds outside Bash. They smashed car windows, slugged passersby, swarmed drunks and whomped on them — and were videotaped in action. When a tape of one segment of the rampage found its way to police and then to TV stations, the Denver media lit up with lurid accounts of the "wilding" and the dangers of Let Out.
Suddenly Dilley had access to resources she'd never had before. Up to that point, there might have been two or three officers and a lieutenant patrolling LoDo on weekend nights, in addition to a handful of off-duty cops working security in the clubs. Over the next few weeks, the police presence soared to as high as eighty officers, including some in riot gear, as the DPD vowed to crack down on street crime in the area.