Denver Zoo death: Girlfriend disputes cops' tale about why Alonzo Ashley was tased (VIDEO)

Yesterday, Denver Police said a man who died Monday at the Denver Zoo, now ID'd as Alonzo Ashley, went into such a cop-biting frenzy that he had to be contact-tased. But his girlfriend and family contend that he was merely suffering the effects of extreme heat when the situation spiraled out of control.

According to his girlfriend, who has asked not to be named, Ashley (nicknamed Tiger) got so overheated that he vomited. She adds that he was trying to cool down by splashing water on his head from a fountain near the elephant enclosure when a zoo staffer asked if he needed help. He allegedly responded by saying he wanted to be left alone, leading to calls to zoo security and Denver Police. She insists that no "domestic disturbance" of the sort cited by the DPD took place, and maintains that he didn't fight back against officers.

This account could hardly be more different from the one police have been sharing. They say Ashley attacked a zoo employee alerted by an argument with his girlfriend, and subsequently bit two people trying to subdue him, in addition to inflicting a head injury. Moreover, they describe him as so wild that contact tasing -- pressing the device directly against him, as opposed to shooting him with Taser barbs, which would have immobilized him entirely -- did nothing to slow him down. Only after he was belatedly brought under control did he begin convulsing, then stopped breathing. He died at a nearby hospital.

One more thing: Police say they found drugs and drug paraphernalia on Ashley, although they haven't specified more than that. His girlfriend insists he had no drugs on his person.

An autopsy is scheduled to take place today. With luck, it will shed more light on a scenario that seems to get more confusing the more we find out about it. Look below to see a 9News video about the latest developments, followed by our earlier coverage.

Update, 1:25 p.m. July 19: The Denver Police Department has now confirmed that a man who died at the Denver Zoo yesterday amid what's being termed a domestic disturbance involving his girlfriend was tased prior to when he stopped breathing. However, DPD spokesman Sonny Jackson stresses that the incident involved "contact tasing" as opposed to being struck by Taser barbs. What's the difference?

Here's how Jackson explains it.

"A contact tasing is where you basically put the taser against the skin -- and it only affects that area," he says. "It doesn't necessarily affect the whole body. The other one, the one with the barbs that you shoot, they can't stand, and you can't touch someone if it's been deployed. Whereas contact tasing works locally on the area being touched, so you can get the person to comply."

According to the DPD account, compliance was in short supply during the incident. The man, who'd gotten into an argument with his girlfriend near the elephant enclosure, was reportedly acting irrationally and had already attacked a zoo security guard before the cops' arrival. He's said to have ignored their verbal commands, and when the officers tried to arrest him, he began biting, sinking his teeth into one cop and a zoo employee. One officer was also hit by the man, and another zoo staffer wound up with a head injury.

At that point, the Taser was drawn, but it seemed to have had no impact on the man. The DPD says he kept fighting for several more minutes before he could finally be taken into custody. At that point, however, he began to convulse and his breathing stopped.

Why was he behaving this way? An autopsy should shed light on that matter, but the DPD stresses that drugs and drug paraphernalia were recovered from the suspect.

Look below to see the original item, featuring video footage shot toward the end of the altercation.

Original item, 11:27 a.m. July 19: It's been a bizarre week at the Denver Zoo. Last week, Murray, a large cassowary -- a species reportedly dubbed "the world's most dangerous bird" by the San Diego Zoo -- escaped, causing part of the attraction to be closed prior to his recapture. Then, yesterday, a man collapsed and died after a domestic dispute and a scuffle with guards and police. Could he have been tased?

Reached earlier this morning, Denver Police Department spokesman Sonny Jackson said he still didn't have answers to that question or others related to the incident -- although he stressed that the investigation is ongoing. For now, that leaves us with the barest of information. According to 9News, DPD officers were called in regard to what's termed a "domestic dispute" near the area where the elephants are kept. There, the cops joined zoo security in breaking up a fight between a man and a woman.

The scuffle was apparently so heated that some of the personnel called to deal with the situation were injured -- but not as seriously as the man himself, who stopped breathing and couldn't be revived. He was pronounced dead after being transported to a hospital.

Jackson hopes to have more information soon, and when he does, we'll update this post. In the meantime, here's a 9News video that includes helicopter footage of the fight's aftermath.

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Taser used to try to disable, kidnap woman? Denver Police on lookout for shocking suspect."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts