Nineteen-year-old Quincy Shannon has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But if you're a budding broadcast journalist, as Shannon is, that puts you in the right place at the right time.
On the second weekend of June last year, the place was LoDo, where Shannon went to film "action" for a class assignment. He found plenty when fights broke out at Let Out ("A Piece of the Action," May 12). Although he recognized one of the troublemakers, Shannon's only role was documenting the increasingly violent scene unfolding all around him. "The only thing on the tape that's anything close to bad on my part is the one time a security guard hits me and I say 'Wow,'" he reports.
But Shannon didn't get to view his tape for weeks. A cop confiscated the video, which wound up airing on channels 2 and 9 a dozen days later, its images inspiring the "wilding" stories that made the summer so hot for much of lower downtown. Shannon had hit the big time -- not that the TV stations acknowledged that the leaked footage was a student journalist's work. Shannon himself didn't realize he'd gotten his break until kids started calling, accusing him of being a snitch.
It wasn't until late November that the cameraman finally got his credits: a charge of "engaging in a riot," a night in the pokey, and a May 17 trial date.
Shannon barely made it to the right place by the right time Tuesday morning. He had to drive all night from Jefferson City, Missouri, where he attends Lincoln University and was taking part in a youth-leadership program. He was fixing his tie as he ran into the Denver County courtroom, joining his family and his lawyer, David Suro.
And then the judge said that the charges were being dropped.
"As we got further into the case, there were serious questions about whether we could prove that he had actually aided, abetted or encouraged any of the rioting simply by filming it," says Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney's Office. "Without such a belief, we had a duty to dismiss."
Shannon's grandmother gave Suro a thank-you card. Shannon went home to take a nap.
And Suro got busy. Within the next two weeks, he plans to sue the City of Denver and a specific officer with the Denver Police Department on Shannon's behalf for federal civil-rights violations, malicious prosecution and whatever else he can come up with -- not in connection with the wilding case, but with another night in LoDo.
Shannon recorded the action that night, too -- through the 911 call he made as officers tried to quell a disturbance during Let Out on August 7. "I go to the clubs downtown probably twice a summer, maybe three times," says Shannon. "That's when you get to get caught up with old friends and things." And get caught up in another fracas, this one earning him a charge of disobeying a lawful order, a night in the pokey, and a trial date of November 23, 2004.
That morning, Suro played the 911 tape for the prosecutor. The case was dismissed before the trial even started.
The DPD incident report from that night read as follows: "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."
On the 911 tape, you can't hear Shannon saying "Fuck the police." But you can hear him talking -- in a voice so excited and high-pitched that at first the operator thought he was a girl -- about an officer spraying him in a car, then chasing him and refusing to give Shannon his name or badge number. You can also hear that officer, later identified as Tom McKibben, shouting, "You are a serious pain in my ass!"
How right he was.
The tape ends with the sound of a scuffle and a crash; witnesses say that McKibben kicked Shannon's legs out from under him, then left him hog-tied on the sidewalk, his face bleeding from a cut that has left a permanent scar.
"He was prosecuted on a lie," Suro says of his client. "No one ever questions that stuff."
The night after the first case was dropped, Shannon went on TV and complained about how the Denver cops beat up a black kid from Park Hill. The next day, he was charged in connection with the June 13 wilding; his filming had encouraged the rioters, prosecutors said. A half-dozen of those alleged rioters were charged with assault; three have taken a plea, and three more are scheduled for trials this summer. So far, Shannon hasn't been subpoenaed to testify -- but then again, he was a defendant himself until Tuesday morning.
"It's a half-assed victory, but we'll take it," Suro says.
"It's a good lesson in life, period," says Shannon, the student journalist. "Before this, I was under the impression that the truth comes out in court."
But sometimes, just sometimes, the right decision is made at the right time, in the right place.
In Their Cups
The wait for the hearing was so long that one man resorted to getting a cup of coffee from a machine in the Wellington E. Webb building.
"That's grounds for divorce," said his wife, Kimmie Cominsky, owner of the Perk & Pub coffee shop. But she had reason to be a bit on edge: She'd been waiting not just the forty minutes that the Board of Adjustment for Zoning Appeals was running behind on May 17, but for the six very long months since the city shut down the outdoor patio outside the shop that she and Dave Blanchard opened last year. Turned out that an outdoor patio violated city zoning for that neighborhood -- never mind that a city department had initially signed off on plans for outdoor seating at the Perk & Pub, which occupies a century-old storefront right next to a laundromat at Ohio and Emerson ("Brew!," October 29, 2004).
Cominsky and Blanchard had to put their plans to open other neighborhood spots on hold: Without the patio, this Perk & Pub lost $50,000. They had to lay off their employees. Cominsky opened and closed the place herself.
But in the end, they had plenty of help -- from their neighbors.
Fans of the Perk & Pub protested the loss of the patio all the way to the Denver City Council, and in April councilmembers unanimously approved a measure that would allow outdoor patios in many residential areas -- if the zoning board authorizes such an exception.
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Cominsky took the first hearing date she could get: May 17. When the Perk & Pub finally came up on the agenda, dozens of supporters poured into the hearing room; one neighbor testified that over 1,100 West Washington Park residents had signed letters and petitions in favor of the patio. Absent from that list was the neighbor directly across the street, who told the board that he worried about noise and parking problems. But the numbers carried the day, and the board agreed to a one-year exception for a patio that seats twenty, open from 7 a.m until 8 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends, coffee and food only. "We do not wish to apply for a liquor license, ever," said Cominsky, who'd been through that with a neighborhood group last year. And no entertainment, unless "random neighbors choose to sing on the patio."
Late Tuesday afternoon, she was content to just sit there among friends, soaking up the sun...and the victory. "It doesn't feel real," she said. "It feels like we're illegally sitting out here."
In September, when the annual North American Specialty Coffee and Tea Trade Show comes to Denver, Cominsky and Blanchard are slated to speak on "How to Avoid Zoning Pitfalls." "We've learned an awful lot of lessons," says Blanchard. "We're eager to use them."
The first one: Thank your local customers. The official uniform on the Perk & Pub patio Tuesday was a T-shirt provided by one of those customers, with a variation of the MasterCard logo on the front, and on the back a tally of the shop's legal costs and losses, right above these words: "Getting your patio by overwhelming support of your neighbors...priceless."