Marvin Booker jail death: Judge asked to stop city from blocking FBI access to evidence
Last month, the family of Marvin Booker, who died in custody at a Denver jail in 2010, expressed frustration over delays in a lawsuit they filed against the city the following year. Weeks later, a trial date still hasn't been set, but court action is taking place: The family's attorney, Darold Kilmer, has filed a motion asking a judge to authorize the release of information to the FBI, which is conducting a separate investigation into the matter.
On July 9, 2010, as we've reported, Booker was arrested and transported to the Van-Cise Simonet Detention Center after failing to appear at a hearing in regard to a possession-of-drug-paraphernalia charge. He spent several hours in a processing area, and at some point, he took off his shoes.
Marvin Booker's family at a news conference on Martin Luther King Day.
Photo by Melanie Asmar
When Booker's name was finally called, the lawsuit maintains, he started toward the booking desk before going back to retrieve his shoes. A deputy then "pursued Mr. Booker and grabbed his arm in an attempt to restrain him," the suit continues. "In what may fairly be described as a massive overreaction, four other deputies then rushed in, violently restraining each of Mr. Booker's limbs and wrestling him" to the floor. In the process, Booker was placed in a "sleeper hold" amid an altercation that also included the use of nunchucks, handcuffs and a Taser. Afterward, the suit contends, Booker's "limp, lifeless" body was placed in a holding cell. Only later did personnel realize he wasn't breathing and call for help.
The city's version of events is far different. The use of force was necessary due to Booker's belligerent response, officials argue. Moreover, he suffered from an enlarged heart and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among other ailments, and had cocaine in his system at the time of his death -- meaning that he "possessed most, if not all, of the classic symptoms for somebody at risk of sudden cardiac death," the defense team has written.
Nonetheless, notes attorney Kilmer via e-mail, "federal Judge Brooke Jackson denied Denver's motion to throw the case out of court" this past December "and ruled that it may proceed to a jury trail." However, he goes on, "Denver has appealed that order. So now we're in the appellate court as a temporary detour on our way to the jury trial."
In the meantime, Kilmer writes, "the FBI has contacted us seeking our assistance in their federal investigation into Mr. Booker's death. They have asked that we provide to them documents and transcripts of testimony by the guards that were involved in the killing."
Kilmer and the family would love to help -- but as he points out, "there is a 'protective order' that governs many of the documents and other evidence in the case." On top of that, "Denver has designated a significant amount of evidence as 'confidential' under the protective order, which means we cannot release the evidence unless either (1) Denver consents; or (2) the court authorizes it."
Thus far, Denver hasn't signed off, and Kilmer's clearly not happy about it. He accuses the city of "continuing its campaign to cover up the facts and circumstances of Mr. Booker's death" and having "no interest in anyone reviewing the conduct of the jail guards that led to Mr. Booker's death. They don't want a jury to review it, they don't want the media to review it, they don't want the FBI or the DOJ to review it."
With that in mind, Kilmer and associates have filed a motion asking that Judge Jackson authorize the plaintiffs to disclose the information to the FBI.
Not that Kilmer is expecting miracles if the feds do get the documents. "Given the recent decision by the federal authorities to not pursue the case relating to the brutality inflicted upon Alex Landau by the Denver Police, we have reason to be skeptical that any such investigation will lead to anything, despite the compelling evidence of unconstitutional brutality inflicted upon Mr. Booker. Nevertheless, we remain willing to cooperate and hope to be pleasantly surprised if federal government officials do decide to finally draw a line regarding Denver law-enforcement brutality."
Look below to see the order, as well as a scan of a page from the Rocky Mountain News circa 1976. It features Booker speaking to the Colorado House of Representatives on Martin Luther King's birthday several years before the date was designated a national holiday. Booker's family says he was something of a King scholar who memorized MLK speeches.
By the way, Booker's trial was supposed to be underway on Martin Luther King Day, 2013.
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