By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Castillo was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 33 years in prison. The two officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey.
"When someone brings a fully loaded, pistol-grip shotgun to LoDo, it is reasonable to conclude they are not there to enter a skeet-shooting contest," the DA declared. "When the weapon is indiscriminately fired repeatedly in a crowded parking lot...the assailant should expect to be shot."
Central Parking employee Ernest Miller showed up for work the day after the shootout and found the lot wrapped in crime-scene tape. The boss had been asking employees to stay until one in the morning, he says, but after that Miller made a point to leave around midnight, and so did his fellow attendants.
"I really wasn't comfortable working down there with no protection," says Miller, who left Central's employ last year. "We asked if we could just work till twelve, and they were fine with that."
After clocking out at another location, Miller sometimes drove by the lot on his way home. He saw drivers pulling in and not paying. The lot has more than 200 spaces, at ten bucks a pop on weekend nights. There was significant revenue being lost between midnight and Let Out, but Miller wasn't about to try to collect it.
"Some of the police officers told me, 'If you don't have to be down here at night, don't be here,'" he says.
His buddies are laughing at him, but the young man in the SECURITY T-shirt persists in hugging a utility pole a few steps from the intersection of 18th and Market. After a few drink specials, it seems to be the only stable feat of engineering in LoDo.
"I'm securing myself," the man explains.
It's a Friday night in the heat of summer, half an hour before the stroke of Let Out, just a little over two years and a few steps away from the shotgun showdown of '08. Blake and Market are thick with pub-crawlers intent on hitting one more spot, collecting one more phone number or making plans to head elsewhere. The vibe tonight is festive and far from sinister; the greatest danger on the street seems to be the possibility of a wallet-mauling by the gauntlet of burrito vendors, gyro assemblers and panhandlers.
A young woman in a pink dress tugs at her heavy-footed escort, giggling and boasting about keeping him from getting run over. Packs of teenage girls in short skirts stutter-step like hobbled prisoners, either because of their torturous footwear or their tight apparel. Two of them take off their high heels and step gingerly, barefoot, around puddles of vomit. A bleary-eyed fellow gazes benignly on the throng milling around him. His shirt reads DRINK. REFILL. REPEAT.
"Are you leaving?" one big-haired, Jersey Shore-worthy sibyl shrieks at another across Blake, incredulously. "Don't you want to go someplace else?"
Market is closed off at 19th by a police barricade, giving the block a pedestrian-mall feel and allowing an impromptu cab stand to operate at the edge of the disgorging bars. A foot patrol of five officers casually circles the block, from Market to Blake, which tends to shut down earlier, then back to Market.
The Central Parking lot in the 1800 block of Market is quiet and far from full. Three police cars move slowly down the alley, checking the lot for suspicious activity, but there's nothing to see but a couple of men standing on Market Street, helping themselves, with at least an attempt at discretion, to tallboys out of the trunk of an old Ford.
After years of fine-tuning their approach, Denver police believe they've made some strides in keeping the peace at Let Out. "We don't have a problem with people coming down there to enjoy themselves," says Lieutenant Ciempa. "But people who come down there to commit acts of violence, or people who don't understand when to say when — we're not going to tolerate it. We'll find them a place, either in detox or jail."
Until a recent schedule change, Ciempa was the primary lieutenant in charge of the Let Out detail. He's spent every weekend of the past three years in LoDo, except for his vacations, and he sees several forces at work in the gradual easing of the situation: savvy policing, more cooperation from club owners, a different kind of crowd.
"One of the issues we had was people coming into downtown and just hanging out on the street, roaming in LoDo in fairly sizable groups," he says. "Some of them were down there looking for problems. I'm not saying it's completely gone away, but with the police presence we've put down there, it's a constantly improving process."
By "presence," Ciempa doesn't just mean foot patrols and traffic diversions. In 2008, in preparation for the Democratic National Convention, the DPD installed a network of High Activity Location Observation (HALO) cameras downtown; combined with existing traffic cameras, the system has given law enforcement a much better handle on street activity in LoDo. The cameras have contributed to scores of arrests, Ciempa says. They also allow police to react more quickly to brewing trouble — and possibly deter people who realize their stunts might be recorded.