Alonzo Ashley: Decision not to charge anyone for homicide at Denver Zoo followed by protest

Update below: In July, Alonzo Ashley died at the Denver Zoo after being tased by police. The coroner's office subsequently ruled the death a homicide, but the Denver District Attorney's Office isn't charging anyone with a crime in relation to it; see the decision statement below. This turn has left plenty of dissatisfied parties and was followed by a weekend protest in which one man was busted.

According to a Denver Police Department account we shared following the incident, Ashley got into a heated argument with his girlfriend near the elephant enclosure at the Zoo. Shortly thereafter, he began acting irrationally and attacked a zoo security guard prior to the arrival of DPD officers. Ashley is said to have ignored their verbal commands to calm down, and when the cops tried to arrest him, he began biting, sinking his teeth into one cop and a zoo employee. One officer was also hit by the man, and another zoo staffer wound up with a head injury.

At that point, Ashley was contact tased, as opposed to being struck by Taser barbs. What's the difference? DPD spokesman Sonny Jackson explained it to us this way: "A contact tasing is where you basically put the taser against the skin -- and it only affects that area. It doesn't necessarily affect the whole body. The other one, the one with the barbs that you shoot, they can't stand, and you can't touch someone if it's been deployed. Whereas contact tasing works locally on the area being touched, so you can get the person to comply."

Not in this case. The DPD says Ashley kept fighting for several more minutes before he could finally be taken into custody. At that point, however, he began to convulse and his breathing stopped. He later died of a heart attack and respiratory arrest, according to the coroner's office.

Afterward, Ashley's girlfriend and family came forward, arguing that the entire situation could have been prevented. According to his girlfriend, Ashley (nicknamed Tiger) got so overheated that he vomited. Afterward, he was trying to cool down by splashing water on his head from a fountain near the elephant enclosure when a zoo staffer asked if he needed help. He allegedly responded by saying he wanted to be left alone, prompting calls to zoo security and Denver Police. She insists that no "domestic disturbance" of the sort cited by the DPD took place, and maintains that Ashley didn't fight back against officers.

Were the cops at fault? The Denver DA's office says no. Here's a key passage from district attorney Mitch Morrissey's decision statement:

Even if one or more of the involved citizens or officers could be proven to have caused the death of Alonzo Ashley, which as indicated above is not possible, we would not be able to prove their use of force was criminal, rather than a justified use of force under the applicable "affirmative defenses." This would therefore be a "justifiable" homicide, if, in fact, it could actually be proven to be a homicide. Based on Dr. [John D.] Carver's Autopsy Report, there is no legal basis to label this or consider this to be a homicide. From a criminal law assessment of the facts of this case, the involved citizens and law enforcement officers were justified in using the degree of force used.

Ashley's family members weren't the only folks baffled and displeased by Morrissey's determination. A number of pastors from the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance met with city officials over the weekend to ask about the lack of charges. In addition, a march between the Zoo and downtown featuring representatives from West Denver Copwatch took place on Saturday. Here's how the organization announced the protest on its website:


Saturday October 22nd, 6pm

Meet outside the entrance of the Denver Zoo, where Denver police murdered Alonzo Ashley in July.

Police terror is plaguing the Denver metro area. As worldwide economic conditions worsen, the police have locally continued to murder, mass imprison, and torture poor and working class people, people of color, migrants, and others marginalized by the capitalist system.

Over the past year and a half, a growing movement against police terror has spread throughout Denver. Street demonstrations, public meetings, court room actions, and other public mobilizations have helped build strong networks of social struggle against police violence in the Denver metro area.

Although a wave of police firings briefly created an illusion that the heinous abuses of the police may be handled by those in administrative power, the recent rehirings of police officers who have admittedly brutalized local residents have illustrated that those in power will not be the ones who fix this problem.

While folks have petitioned, held meetings with public officials, sued the police and administration, and used every other method through the usual "legitimate" channels to effect change, the police still murder and attack us on a daily basis. Justice will only come from us, not the same system that is reliant upon the police for protection. When the police know that the people will mobilize and fight back in a literal, and not just figurative sense, then they will start to back down.

Building a movement that can directly stand against police terror can start in many places. We have chosen the streets because we feel that by reclaiming space, we also reclaim power. The police truly believe that the streets belong to them. They belong instead to the people. And every time we march, and hold these streets without their permission, we reclaim space that the police attempt to steal from us on a daily basis. Join us in holding the streets on October 22nd, a day that has been commemorated for over a decade as an international day of action against police terror and abuse.

See you in the streets TOMORROW!

At the march, one person was arrested for defacing public property.

Update, October 25: Daelene Mix, spokeswoman for the Manager of Safety's office, points out that the march referred to above had been planned in advance of the district attorney's decision regarding charges in the Alonzo Ashley case. Only afterward was Ashley made a focus of the rally. With that in mind, the headline on this post and one sentence in the opening paragraph have been slightly altered to better reflect the timeline.

Look below to see three videos -- an animated reenactment of the Zoo incident, followed by two 9News reports from July -- and the aforementioned decision statement, which can also be accessed by clicking here.

Alonzo Ashley Decision Statement

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More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Taser used to try to disable, kidnap woman? Denver Police on lookout for shocking suspect."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts