Eyes burning, scared and angry, nineteen-year-old Quincy Shannon punched 911 on his cell phone at 1:48 a.m. on Saturday, August 7, surrounded by the bedlam of LoDo at Let Out.
"Denver 911," said the operator.
"Hi, how are you doing?" Shannon replied. "I would like to report officers spraying stuff into my car."
"Spraying stuff into your car? Are you sure?"
"Yes, yes, we were at a place where we couldn't move, and officer number..."
At this point in the 911 recording, Shannon can be heard asking the cop, who was later identified as Denver police officer Tom McKibben, "Can I get your badge number, please?"
The eighteen-year veteran of the force responded by shooting pepper spray in Shannon's face.
"Aah! Aah! He's spraying me right now," Shannon yelled on the tape. "Aah! Aah! I'm not trying to be disrespectful! He won't give me his badge number! He's got a SWAT uniform on, and he won't give me his badge number!"
It was week eight of the Denver Police Department's zero-tolerance crackdown on violence and loitering in LoDo at Let Out on Friday and Saturday nights. Beginning the last weekend in June, the police presence in LoDo at bar closing time has increased more than tenfold. Between one and two in the morning, the entertainment district takes on the feeling of a militarized zone, with a helicopter circling overheard and roadblocks with flashing lights at several major intersections. Gang Unit and SWAT officers wear tactical gear and patrol the sidewalks armed with assault rifles.
Just before he made his 911 call, Shannon had been sitting in the back seat of his friend Ramon Hernandez's 2001 Dodge Durango in a private parking lot adjacent to the nightclub Bash, where Shannon, Hernandez and two other teenage friends, Jocelyn Buckley and Michael Walker, had just attended an eighteen-and-over hip-hop night. As they exited the club and stopped to chat with some friends, gunshots were fired nearby. The four of them ran for the Durango. Hernandez got behind the wheel; Walker jumped in the front passenger seat; Shannon and Buckley piled in the back. After the gunfire stopped, they realized that a fifth friend had been lost in the panic.
"Police started to sweep the parking lot, making everyone leave," Shannon says. "One officer came to the truck, and I got out and explained that we were waiting for someone and we were concerned for their safety, and he said that was fine, but all we had was five minutes, and then we would have to leave. We agreed, and no more than twenty seconds later, another officer came to the truck and told us to move. We tried to explain how the other officer said that we had five minutes, but this second officer began cursing and said our time was up. When we tried to explain why we were waiting, he pepper-sprayed the inside of the car through the driver's-side window."
At this point, according to all four of the teenagers, Walker got out of the truck and ran. Buckley also got out, but stayed in the parking lot, cursing at the officers and spitting Mace from her mouth. "One of them heard her and told her, 'You want some more?' and sprayed her again," Hernandez says. Buckley then got back in the truck, and Hernandez, whose glasses were coated with pepper spray, bounced the truck over a curb and rolled to a stop about a block away.
Shannon, meanwhile, had called 911. His voice was so high-pitched with excitement after being sprayed a second time that the emergency operator mistook him for a woman.
"Ma'am, what is your name?" she asked.
"I'm a sir. My name is Quincy Michael Shannon."
"Where are you at?"
"I need a better description."
"I'm on Market and 18th. It's a SWAT officer."
"Sir, are you going stay there?" the operator asked.
"Yes ma'am. This was not cool. I want to report as much as I can. My driver, his eyes are all red; the girl that I was here with, she can't breathe right now. This shit is not cool, because we couldn't move in the traffic, and they just started spraying the car."
"What color car are you in, sir?"
Shannon didn't hear the question. On the tape he says, "Now he's chasing me! He's gonna keep spraying me!"
The operator repeats her question: "What color car are you in?"
"It was a silver Durango. It just left. I'm out here on the corner because I gotta get this shit reported. I can't breathe right now, and my eyes hurt."
"Do you need a paramedic?"
"No, my eyes are burning, but I don't need a paramedic. I just need something to be done about this."
"And you said he's refusing to give you his badge number?" the operator asked.
For the first time, McKibben's voice becomes audible. "You are a serious pain in my ass!" the officer said.
Shannon then shouted, "Now he's grabbing me, ma'am! He's putting me in an armlock!"
The recording ends with the sound of a scuffle and a muffled crash.
According to witnesses, McKibben twisted Shannon's arm behind his back, kicked his legs out from under him and took him down hard, face first. Then he bent Shannon's right leg up and handcuffed both Shannon's hands over his leg, hog-tying him in the middle of the sidewalk, bleeding. Shannon suffered a gash on the left side of his face that has left a permanent scar. He was arrested and charged with Interfering With Police Authority and Disobeying a Lawful Order.
The incident report McKibben filed that night tells a much different story than the 911 tape. His report reads, in entirety: "Defendant in parking lot in area of 10-15 shots fired. Large disturbances. Defendant ordered to leave and responded numerous times saying, 'Fuck the police!' and refused to leave. Defendant told crowd to 'Fuck the police!' Area was dispersed with pepper spray. Defendant walked into spray, choked, and continued to refuse orders to leave. Defendant was arrested."
Shannon denies shouting "Fuck the police." He is devoutly religious, and upon hearing the 911 tape for the first time, apologized on the spot to his father for using the word "shit" twice.
Police have made as many as forty arrests per weekend in LoDo since the crackdown began this summer. Most of those arrested have been black or Hispanic youths who do not contest the minor charges against them -- usually public fighting, disturbing the peace or disobeying a lawful order -- opting instead to accept a deferred judgment, meaning that if they plead guilty and stay out of trouble for a year, their criminal record will be wiped clean.
Shannon wasn't having that. He and his family hired Denver criminal defense attorney David Suro, and a trial date in municipal court was set for November 23. He came to the courtroom accompanied by his family and James Peters, pastor at New Hope Baptist Church, where Shannon is licensed as a minister. Shannon would have made a sympathetic defendant. He is literally a choirboy, acting as chaplain for the gospel choir at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, where he is studying broadcast communication and philosophy.
But just before jury selection was to begin, Suro pulled aside Denver Assistant City Attorney Kristina Andrews and played her the 911 tape.
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"I said to her, 'If I play you some evidence you have no right to receive prior to your witness taking the stand, will you do the right thing?' She said, 'I will.' So I played her the tape, twice, and she said right there, 'Okay, I'm going to dismiss all the charges.'"
Neither Andrews nor McKibben returned phone messages seeking comment for this story.
Shannon and Suro have filed a notice of intent to sue the City of Denver for federal civil rights violations as well as assault, battery, false arrest, malicious prosecution and abuse of process.
"I think basically my client pissed this officer off by asking for his badge number," Suro says. "It was a challenge to his authority. But you know, we give police officers those badges. They're supposed to serve us, not the other way around."