The Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, where an inmate was killed yesterday and Marvin Booker died in July 2010.
The Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, where an inmate was killed yesterday and Marvin Booker died in July 2010.
File photo by Kevin J. Beaty

Denver Sheriff: Jail Homicide Wasn't Caused by Overcrowding, Understaffing

Update: At this writing, Denver city officials are releasing little information about a death that took place at the main Denver jail on July 10. However, the Denver Sheriff Department is pushing back on suggestions by critics that chronic overcrowding at the facility may have contributed to what is being investigated as a homicide.

As noted in our previous coverage, on view below, the Colorado Latino Forum posted about the incident, which is said to have involved inmate-on-inmate violence. In its item, the CLF noted that the organization "has been warning Sheriff Patrick Firman, Safety Director Stephanie O'Malley, City Attorney Kristin Bronson, and Mayor Michael Hancock about an impending tragedy as a result of the critical situation in Denver's jails due to jail overcrowding, extreme staff shortages, and rising assaults."

The group added that "up until now city leadership has been missing in action regarding community demands for answers from top public officials regarding Denver's increasing jail crisis."

Early yesterday evening, following Mayor Michael Hancock's state-of-the-city address, in which he didn't mention the death or alleged problems at the jail, formally known as the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, Denver's Department of Public Safety released the following statement attributed to Sheriff Firman:

"The incident that occurred at the Downtown Detention Center this morning remains under investigation and there are limited details that can be shared at this time. However, we can confirm that the facility was appropriately staffed and the housing unit where the incident occurred was below capacity. Employees and the inmates who witnessed the incident have been offered wellness assistance and we will continue to support their well-being."

Continue for our previous coverage.

Original post, 12:23 p.m. July 10: Earlier today, July 10, an inmate was killed at Denver's main downtown jail. The incident, which a source says involved inmate-on-inmate violence, took place mere hours before speakers at a press conference outside the facility are expected to demand an investigation into the death of Marvin Booker, who died at the jail on July 9, 2010, nearly seven years ago to the day.

Among those sharing information about the death at what is formally known as the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center is the Colorado Latino Forum, whose post on the topic appears below in its entirety. However, a representative with the Denver Police Department confirms the death of an inmate at around the time (7:10 a.m.) mentioned in the CLF statement, and a Denver Sheriff Department rep notes that the incident is under investigation by the DPD. Neither agency has provided any additional details at this writing.

In its item about the death, the Colorado Latino Forum cites its concerns about overcrowding, staff shortages and rising assaults at the jail, suggesting that such issues may have factored in to the latest tragedy at Van Cise.

Here's the CLF statement:

The Colorado Latino Forum has learned that an inmate was killed this morning at approximately 7:10 AM in Denver's Downtown Detention Center. Our understanding is the death was a result of an inmate-on-inmate assault. First, our thoughts and prayers go out to the victim's family. No one expects their loved one to go to jail, only to be released in a body bag.

Second, CLF has been warning Sheriff Patrick Firman, Safety Director Stephanie O'Malley, City Attorney Kristin Bronson, and Mayor Michael Hancock about an impending tragedy as a result of the critical situation in Denver's jails due to jail overcrowding, extreme staff shortages, and rising assaults. While not all of the facts are out, we fully expect a transparent investigation, not only of the direct actors involved, but also an up-the chain inquiry.

Ultimately, the buck stops with leadership at the top, and they too must be held accountable. We will look to see whether Mayor Hancock will address the jail crisis and loss of life in today's State of the City speech, or if more platitudes will be served up to Denver's voters. Up until now city leadership has been missing in action regarding community demands for answers from top public officials regarding Denver's increasing jail crisis.

We will remain resolute in holding those accountable who were on notice to prevent the next tragedy from occurring. We stand in solidarity with Denver's incarcerated community and the line-staff who were dealing with unsafe and dangerous conditions every day. We will continue to fight to improve the conditions inside Denver's jails, and will continue the struggle for the community to be heard until real reform finally occurs.

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