Last week, we noted that the Denver Department of Public Safety's release of draft reforms for the Denver Sheriff's Department followed weeks of negative PR for the embattled agency, including outrage over a video showing Deputy Thomas Ford punching out an apparently nonviolent inmate.
Now, the Denver District Attorney's Office has announced that it will not file charges against Ford due to extenuating circumstances not revealed by the sound-free video -- namely profane and racist verbal attacks by the inmate, Kyle Askins, whose choice to stand up when approached is characterized as offering a rationale for Ford to get physical
Here's the video of Ford laying out Askins, recorded on July 13 and originally shared by the Colorado Independent:
In a decision letter addressed to interim Denver sheriff Elias Diggins, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrisseey acknowledges that "the video is subject to different interpretations." However, he argues that spoken communication not captured by the clip provide more context for Ford's actions and suggest that a jury would not convict him of a crime.
According to the document, Askins aimed an assortment of "taunts" at the deputy sheriffs in the processing area seen above, with the majority of them directed at Ford. The ones Ford recalled included: "Fuck you. You pussy. You porch monkey. You black bastard. I'll fuck you up. I'll kick your ass."
Another deputy remembered several others delivered over what's described as "a lengthy period of time." Among the examples cited are "You fucking niggers. Why is this taking so long? Fuck you. Fuck you. You're just a pussy. Bitch, I will kick your ass." And a registered nurse told investigators about "horrible" statements that made him cringe -- "things about 'fucking your daughter' or 'raping your daughter,' or something like that."
In the letter, Ford maintains that he repeatedly told Askins to "Knock it off" and warned him that if he didn't, he'd be taken back to a cell. When the inmate failed to quiet down, the deputy says he walked toward him with the intention of making good on his promise.
At that point, the document states that "Askins stood up to confront Deputy Ford" -- something that Ford said "surprised him" and made him feel that the inmate was ready to make good on his assorted threats by starting a fight.
Ford's account reads like so:
So I went over there. I approached him. My sole intention was to place him in a cell. I still had the water bottle in my hand. I still had the print pads in my hand. I had no intention of getting into a physical altercation with this guy. So, but when he -- he popped up off the bench. I didn't tell him to get up. I didn't give him an order. He popped up off the bench in an aggressive manner. His body was tense, and his face, and then, based off of his previous threats about what he was going to do to me, I felt threatened and I defended myself, and I defended myself with a -- with a strike to the face...a strike that we are taught in the Academy to defend ourselves against threats.
Askins's injuries were minor: an injured lip, plus a shoulder abrasion and chest bruise that may have been caused by a fall on the 16th Street Mall before he was taken into custody.
In Morrissey's view, the lack of serious wounds combined with supporting testimony from witnesses and a video that "largely corroborates Deputy Ford's description of events" suggests that "a jury would find that Deputy Ford's use of force was legally justified by Colorado statutes at the moment he struck Askins in the face." As such, he continues, "we could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the force was not justified, as the law requires, if we were to file criminal charges."
Click here to see the complete decision letter and look below to see a booking photo of Askins.
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Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.