Alonzo Ashley's family sues police, zoo for emotional, financial costs

One year after his death, Alonzo Ashley's family has filed a lawsuit on his behalf in U.S. District Court. A year ago this month, Ashley died of a heart attack and respiratory arrest after a skirmish at the Denver Zoo in which Denver Police officers contact-tased him. Fronted by his mother, Gail Waters, on behalf of Ashley's estate, a new seventeen-page lawsuit seeks action against the City and County of Denver, the Denver Zoo and numerous employees of both alleging that he died as a result of their treatment of him.

Although the case sparked accusations of police misconduct on behalf of the DPD officers involved, the Manager of Safety's Office came to this conclusion in January: "Based on a careful review of the facts, a comprehensive analysis of the polices and the law, and a consideration of the recommendations of the OIM (Office of the Independent Monitor) and the Chief of Police, the Manager concludes that the officers did not violate DPD's Use of Force policy, any other Department rules, or any laws with regard to the use of force. Therefore, disciplinary sanctions will not be ordered. Ashley's death is tragic. However, it was both unintended and not the probable consequence of the force used by the officers."

As a result, none of the eight officers involved faced disciplinary action for their involvement. The decision has negative responses from family members, who, along with the Colorado Progressive Coalition, hosted a vigil last Wednesday on the one-year anniversary of Ashley's death.

Filed the same week, this new lawsuit targets both the financial and emotional toll that day took on Ashley's family. "Denver Police Department Defendants' conduct under color of state law proximately caused the deprivation of Plaintiff's constitutionally protected rights," reads the family's complaint, presented by local attorney William Frankfurt. "Due to Defendants' actions, Mr. Ashley suffered injury.... Ashley's family suffered monetary losses, emotional distress and loss of companionship."

The lawsuit insists that Ashley, as an unarmed visitor of the zoo, had his Fourth Amendment rights violated when officers used "deadly force" in his case with "no threat of death or serious injury" to themselves. "Defendants' actions caused Mr. Ashley's injury, and the Defendants acted with reckless or callous indifference to Mr. Ashley's constitutional rights," the suit claims.

Read the full complaint from Ashley's family here: Alonzo Ashley Lawsuit

Read the Manager of Safety's original report: Manager of Safety's Statement About Ashley Alonzo

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Photos: Alonzo Ashley anniversary vigil and anti-police-brutality rally."

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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple