Denver police officer Daniel O'Bannon was late to his own trial on October 18 -- he was still in the loo when Denver County Judge Celeste C de Baca called the courtroom to order just after 10 a.m. -- but it didn't affect the outcome: O'Bannon was cleared on a misdemeanor assault charge of spraying Mace without provocation on revelers outside the Denver Detour, a gay bar at 551 East Colfax Avenue, during the post-Super Bowl celebration on January 31 ("Kings of the Hill," August 12). After listening to testimony from three witnesses, including macing victim Lashonna Gerdine, C de Baca dismissed the case, calling the group's testimony "absolutely uncredible." (O'Bannon's attorney, Nathan Chambers, acknowledged his client's use of a chemical agent during the incident, but O'Bannon did not report the use of force in his daily log sheet -- a violation of department policy -- and was taken off patrol duty until the conclusion of the trial.)
C de Baca stated flatly that she believed the night's events as described by O'Bannon's partner, Officer Joseph Duncan. Duncan told the court he was driving as the two officers headed east on Colfax, when they approached a crowd of fifty to seventy people outside of the Detour, blocking traffic. Duncan said the two officers briefly discussed a plan to disperse the unruly crowd. Duncan then dropped O'Bannon off into the melee and drove forward one block to find a parking space. As he drove with his window down, Duncan said he heard O'Bannon telling the crowd to get back onto the curb. What Duncan didn't see was O'Bannon unleash a stream of Mace onto bystanders. Duncan testified, "If I continue to watch my partner, then most likely I'm going to cause an accident or something."
Sheila Keathley, owner of the Detour, along with witness Cheryl Martell, testified it was O'Bannon who was driving the patrol car. Both claimed the officer sprayed Gerdine and other patrons outside the bar without warning, then returned to his patrol car and drove off.
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Gerdine said she immediately recognized O'Bannon once he got out of the vehicle, since the officer did off-duty security work at a bank where she worked. Gerdine said she didn't report the macing incident immediately since she "didn't want to deal with it." It took Keathley's badgering and a letter to Mayor Wellington Webb nearly three months after the incident before Internal Affairs began an investigation that concluded with the filing of charges against O'Bannon by the city attorney's office.
Ultimately, C de Baca noted the contradictions as to who was driving the patrol car and the inability of the three witnesses to similarly describe the incident.
Duncan said the two officers were too busy to log every call they attended to or every action they took during the near-riot-like circumstances of the evening. Duncan testified that O'Bannon, his partner of four years, never mentioned the use of Mace after the incident.
"It was a mess," Duncan recalled. "We were just running up and down East Colfax."