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Cannabis Time Capsule 1920: Cops fire on unarmed people during Denver narcotics bust

Denver Police in the 1920s.
Denver Police in the 1920s.

This week, we've dug up a tale about Denver police and one of the largest dope-ring raids of 1920s, featuring the often colorful language of the Douglas County Record Journal.

And by colorful, we mean borderline racist and xenophobic. Not to mention the matter-of-fact descriptions of cops completely overextending their power and using lethal force despite there being no real justification for it.

See also: Cannabis Time Capsule 1920: "Kill the Dope Peddlers"

The raid was aimed at taking down the criminal enterprise of Charles Sitterlle, called one of the biggest narcotics dealers in the west. Apparently, Sitterlle was running a dope house in Denver, though the location isn't ever specified. Cops and federal prohibition officers staked out the place for weeks

The joint sounds like it was hopping. Cops say it had been raided several times before, but that a "drug plant" was in the works at the time -- as evidenced by the "swarms of persons, especially negroes and Mexicans."

Cannabis Time Capsule 1920: Cops fire on unarmed people during Denver narcotics bust

During the raid, cops were able to get inside and nab Sitterlle without any hassle from the suspect himself. As for the customers that scattered when the cops showed up? Well, the cops seemingly used them as target practice.

An excerpt says "several volleys of shots were fired at colored persons as they attempted to escape."

There's no mention of shots coming from the fleeing customers, just the cops.

After the altercation, the police were standing around inside twiddling their thumbs when Sitterlle's nephew showed up with a box full of pills he quickly tried to hide. That gave away a secret stash spot containing more than $15,000 in "narcotics of all kinds". Adjusting for inflation, that would be about $178,500 today. The newspaper doesn't describe the drugs other than to say some were "so expensive that they are not to be obtained in countries where no restriction is placed on the sale of drugs."

As police dealt with Sitterlle's nephew, a customer showed up. Eva Dirks, 27, "colored," came to the back of the house, stuck her hand in a broken window and asked nobody in particular for some "M" -- slang for morphine. Cops seized the woman, who responded by grabbing a frying pan and going after the cops. She broke loose and was able to flee, but was tackled a few blocks away by a cop and arrested.

Not long after that, another "colored" person came up to the window and asked for $5 in "C" (cocaine?). Once he saw the cops inside, though, the man ran away. That pissed off the cops -- especially Patroman Edward Lachner, who pulled out his gun and started shooting at the man as he retreated. Put another way: Lachner was shooting at the back of an unarmed drug addict who wasn't even a threat.

Which, if you think about it, isn't that far off from today. Our police department still has enough violent thugs that stories about police abuse against minorities have become a sadly regular occurrence.

For more Colorado cannabis history, check out our Cannabis Time Capsule archive.