Update: On April 25, two days after the publication of this post, the Denver District Attorney's Office formally accused Brice Fitch of first-degree murder for a fatal shooting on April 19, bringing the total number of 2019 Denver homicides that have resulted in criminal charges to five. Continue for our original post.
The difficulty of bringing killers to justice is exemplified by the murder-charge track record for Denver in 2019 to date.
Of the thirteen homicides in the city so far this year, charges had been filed at the time of publication in only four — decisions that appear not to have been publicly revealed prior to this post. Busts were made in two others, but the Denver District Attorney's Office declined to charge the arrestees for reasons explained below; this, too, represents previously unreported information. Two additional incidents were officer-involved shootings, leaving four crimes for which no one's been taken into custody and a recent fifth homicide for which no charging choice had been made against the arrested suspect.
The thirteen cases also demonstrate the continuing vast disparity in the attention the media pays to violent acts whose victims are people of color or incidents that take place in parts of the city that aren't considered hip or trendy. Several of these homicides received sparse coverage that often ended a day or so after the crime-scene tape came down.
The February 20 slaying of Kerryck Summers is a particularly extreme example. Fox31
was among the handful of outlets to cover his murder as breaking news. But the matter was essentially dropped before Summers's identification by the Denver coroner's office. A Google search found a single mention of his name by the press in relation to his slaying: the Denver Post
's running list
of homicide victims.
Last November, we explored homicide statistics for Denver
during 2017 as recorded by Colorado Crime Statistics
, a then-new website launched by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation
. Of that year's 58 homicides, only about 54 percent of them were designated as "cleared," a term CBI communication director Susan Medina defined like so: "'Cleared,' in most cases, means one or more arrests were made. However, there are exceptions where an incident has reached a conclusion from the law enforcement perspective," including instances when "prosecution declines the case or the victim refuses to cooperate. Then the incident is counted as cleared." In all cases, though, "'cleared' means law enforcement has found the perpetrator of the crimes which occurred in the reported incident," she stressed.
Using this definition (and counting the officer-involved shootings), the clearance rate on 2019 Denver homicides is presently 61.5 percent, around 7 percent higher than in 2017 as a whole. But that math may confuse members of the public, particularly given that the well-publicized arrests of two individuals didn't lead to prosecution.
Why is this info only getting out now? For a couple of logical reasons. While law enforcement agencies typically send out press releases about arrests, they don't distribute similar notifications when prosecutors pass. As such, journalists must actively follow up on cases without being prompted by an alert — something that the lack of resources at most news agencies makes increasingly difficult.
Here's a breakdown and update for each of the aforementioned thirteen Denver homicides, in chronological order.
Number 1: No arrest or charge
Time: 2:24 a.m. Monday, January 21
Location: 2320 Glenarm Place, in Five Points
The Denver Post
and the major television stations in town — CBS4, Denver7, 9News and Fox31 — all reported about this fatal shooting as breaking news. But by January 23, when the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner sent out a release identifying victim Deandre Abrams, 32, press interest in the case had slackened. A Google search scored hits for Abrams's name only by 9News
and the Patch
website, which published two pieces — the first after the coroner's email blast, the second following the February 1 arrival of a Crime Stoppers item offering a reward of up to $2,000 for information leading to the arrest of his killer. The 9News mention was also prompted by Crime Stoppers more than a week after the homicide.
No one has been arrested for Abrams's death. The number for Crime Stoppers is 720-913-STOP (7867).
Number 2: Arrest but no charge
Robert Barros was arrested for the January 31 homicide of Dwaine Nees.
Denver Police Department
Time: 4:12 p.m. Thursday, January 31
Location: 3600 block of West Colfax Avenue, in the West Colfax neighborhood
Again, the Denver Post
, the major TV stations and Patch all reported about the fatal stabbing of Dwaine Nees, 48, and there was immediate followup because Robert Barros, 51, was quickly arrested after being found with blood on his hands and a knife in his possession. Additionally, the vivid booking photo seen above was distributed to media purveyors.
However, Carolyn Tyler, spokesperson for the Denver District Attorney's Office, reveals that prosecutors declined to prosecute Barros for the case because there was "insufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt." That likely means it was uncertain whether Barros had acted in self-defense.