Update below: Last night, the Colorado Progressive Coalition hosted a community potluck and vigil in memory of Alonzo Ashley, who died one year ago during an incident involving police and security at the Denver Zoo. Ashley's family and activists demanded a stop to police brutality in Denver, and attendees released tiger-striped balloons in remembrance of Ashley, whose nickname was "Tiger." Click through for photos of last night's events.
In the meantime, Ashley's family has filed a lawsuit on his behalf against the City of Denver, alleging that his death could have been avoided had officers acted differently. In the suit, they also reference the toll that night took on his relatives.
"It is a tragedy that there ever needs to be a vigil for anyone killed by another, much less those charged with protecting our citizens," William Frankfurt, the Ashley family's lawyer, said in a statement. "However, this type of vigil has become commonplace in our community. (Ashley's mom, Gail Waters), along with all of Alonzo's friends and family, continue to mourn his untimely, premature passing. We take our pursuit of justice in this and every matter like it very seriously and look forward to enacting change in policies that will benefit our community."
The city attorney's office also released a statement, which confirms its stance that staff and police handled the incident correctly and reaches out to Ashley's family: "We extend our continued sympathies to Alonzo Ashley's family and loved ones on the anniversary of his death."
Update, 2 p.m.: Daelene Mix, director of communications at the Office of the Manager of Safety, asked Westword to include a PDF version of the office's January statement regarding the July 2011 event at the Denver Zoo. The entire 38-page document is available below: Public Statement - Ashley - 1-27-12
Photos from the event are courtesy of the Colorado Progressive Coalition.
Original post, July 18 at 3:59 p.m.:Tonight, the Colorado Progressive Coalition will host a march and rally memorializing the death of Alonzo Ashley. One year ago today, Ashley died of a heart attack and respiratory arrest after an incident at the Denver Zoo in which police officers contact-tased him. Tonight, Ashley's family will join with the public to host a vigil and potluck dinner at the site of his death.
As Westword reported at the time, official accounts of that day vary wildly from the version shared by Ashley's girlfriend, who was present at the time. According to police reports, Ashley was seen confronting his girlfriend, and when a zoo staff member approached, he is alleged to have attacked, biting two people who tried to calm him down and injuring one in the head. His actions pressed officers to contact tase him -- to touch the Taser directly to his skin instead of shooting him with its barbs and rendering him motionless -- in an attempt to subdue him. Later, Ashley started to shake and then stopped breathing, and he died shortly after reaching a hospital.
Only the last part of this story matches up with the story shared by his girlfriend, who said Ashley became overheated throughout the day and eventually threw up at the zoo. As she splashed water on Ashley in to help him recover, a Denver Zoo employee approached and asked if he could be of help. In her version, Ashley responded that he wanted to be left alone, and the employee responded by calling both Denver Zoo security and the DPD. There was never any evidence of domestic violence, she said, stressing that Ashley did not fight either her or the police.
The incident provoked allegations of misconduct on behalf of the eight officers involved. After an internal investigation within the Denver Police Department, however, Manager of Safety Alex Martinez announced in January that none of those eight would face punishment, and all have been allowed to return to their positions.
"How can anyone explain to Alonzo Ashley's ten, nine and three-year-old nephews and niece that their uncle was killed by brutal and inhumane acts of violence?" Ashley's mother, Gail Waters, said in a statement released this morning. "They, along with family and friends, will greatly suffer from his loss. Since the end of the investigation into my son's death, there has been no communication from Denver's mayor, district attorney, police department or zoo officials in attempt to resolve his unjustified homicide. I, the rest of the Ashley family and Alonzo are still waiting for justice."
Tonight's vigil is intended as both a memorial for Ashley and a response to what his family and members of their community view as police brutality on the part of the officers involved. CPC organizers arranged the event shortly after postponing its predecessor, a "Summer Against Police Violence" march, out of respect for fallen DPD officer Celena Hollis. While many outspoken brutality activists supported the decision, a few have criticized it in recent weeks, saying it betrays weakness in the CPC's longtime efforts to reach a stronger discipline matrix within the DPD.
In recent months, those efforts have centered on demands that the U.S. Department of Justice conduct a top-to-bottom investigation of the DPD. Although that full goal has not been reached, the DOJ is currently looking into the 2009 case of Alex Landau, a current CPC volunteer who was beaten by police officers after being pulled over for an alleged illegal left turn. The incident left him with 45 stitches on his face -- but three years later, no real answers. The CPC has also rallied around victims of the Denver Diner incident, a 2009 on-camera beating that featured Ricky Nixon, one of the same officers involved in Landau's case.
Tonight's vigil begins at 7:30 p.m., but Ashley's family began their own memorial efforts at noon by distributing water bottles in memory of their fallen family member, who suffered in last summer's heat. This will continue until a community potluck precedes the vigil at 6 p.m. All of the events are open to the public.
Tonight's vigil will feature:
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• Gail Waters, mother of Alonzo Ashley • Lendell Ashley, brother of Alonzo Ashley • Rosemary Harris Lytle, president of the NAACP's Colorado/Montana/Wyoming State Conference • Patrick Demmer, superintendent of the Graham Memorial Community Church of God In Christ • Alex Landau • Miriam Peña, CPC co-executive director • Terrance Roberts, executive director of the Prodigal Son Initiative
For more information, visit the CPC's Facebook event page.
More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Denver police misconduct allegations: A Westword update."