Two months ago, family members of Marvin Booker, who died in Denver's main jail during a July 2010 excessive-force incident that led to a $6 million settlement, appeared at a press conference to demand that Denver District Attorney Beth McCann begin a new investigation into the tragic incident. Now, McCann is referring what she calls a "limited aspect" of the case to the Denver Grand Jury. And while McCann's office isn't divulging any specifics, the panel will almost certainly look into reports of a missing Taser that Booker's loved ones see as evidence of a potential criminal coverup.
"There's been lingering grief to know a Taser was used on my brother when he took his last breath," Reverend Spencer Booker told us for our previous post, published on the seventh anniversary of his brother Marvin's passing. "That particular Taser never came through the investigation by Internal Affairs and never was even presented in the civil trial.... We want to know why that Taser is still missing seven years later."
Added Gail Booker, Reverend Booker's wife and Marvin's sister-in-law, who also spoke to us prior to the press conference: "I don't know anywhere in America when a weapon is lost in this kind of situation that they don't keep looking for that weapon. And we continue to seek justice in the death of Marvin Booker."
Early on July 9, 2010, as we've reported, Marvin, a homeless street preacher, was taken into custody on a drug-possession warrant and placed in the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center. While waiting to be processed, he took off his shoes. At approximately 3:30 a.m., he walked to the booking desk, then returned to a nearby seating area to grab his shoes when a sheriff's deputy stopped him.
As seen in surveillance footage, Marvin responded by swinging his elbow twice in the deputy's direction. That prompted the deputy and three other officers to pile on Marvin, forcing him to the floor. In the minutes that followed, he was handcuffed and placed in a so-called sleeper hold. After receiving a Taser jolt, he died.
Hear's the video. Warning: Its contents may disturb some viewers.
Although the Denver Sheriff Department subsequently banned personnel from using sleeper holds, the deputies involved in the incident weren't criminally charged by then-Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey or disciplined at a departmental level over Marvin's death. The lack of action led to a lawsuit and a 2014 trial that led to the aforementioned $6 million settlement. But even after this result, the case continued to draw attention, as witnessed by the release earlier this year of Wade Gardner's searing documentary Marvin Booker Was Murdered.
Reverend Booker notes that the film stirred up concerns about assorted "discrepancies," including questions about the Taser: "There is a section where they ask the city attorney about it, and his response was so insensitive. He said, 'Oh, we had a bad day.' And that just prompted my wife and I to dig deeper."
Their efforts, and those of other supporters, are spelled out in a June 26 article by the Colorado Independent's Susan Greene, who's reported about the case dating back to her days with the Denver Post. Greene wrote that questions about the Taser included:
Why the sergeant, Carrie Rodriguez, went to her office to purportedly lock up the Taser before seeking medical help for Booker, a detour the city’s official report omits.
Why, as Booker was dying, Rodriguez made another trip back to her office to retrieve the Taser, later testifying she thought she might need it for protection against him.
Why she handed in as evidence a Taser that wasn’t deployed the day of the incident.
And why a police detective investigating the case switched that Taser for another that was fired that day, but 34 minutes after Rodriguez shocked Booker and for a much shorter time than video and eyewitness evidence suggest.
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After the publication of the Colorado Independent piece, the Denver Justice Project and Black Lives Matter 5280 launched a Change.org petition titled "DA Beth McCann: Investigate the Taser That Killed Marvin Booker. Hold Deputies Accountable." At this writing, it's collected more than 1,100 signatures.
McCann appears to have taken these various entreaties seriously — but in an announcement about the referral to the grand jury, which is empaneled through December, she stressed that the inquiry won't extend to possible homicide charges against the jail personnel involved. "In general and as a matter of policy, I do not believe it appropriate to reopen my predecessor’s charging decisions without new evidence surfacing," McCann noted in a statement. "There is no new information that would warrant a re-examination of DA Morrissey’s decision not to file homicide charges."
At the same time, though, McCann acknowledged that, in her view, fresh info that flowed from the 2014 trial "justifies an inquiry into possible charges for which the statute of limitations has not yet expired." She added that an independent review of these details "will allow for a complete and thorough review of new questions that have been raised about conduct that took place after the death of Mr. Booker."
These developments speak directly to a comment Reverend Booker expressed this past summer. "We don't know what happened to the Taser," he said. "But we know the Taser that was used on our brother has never been presented to the public. And we need to know what happened to it and why."