Darius Ratcliff's Shocking Lifetime of Crime Before Age 21

Darius Ratcliff's August 2016 booking photo.
Darius Ratcliff's August 2016 booking photo. Denver District Attorney's Office
Update below: Darius Ratcliff has been found guilty of first-degree assault against the peace officer who shot him on July 31, 2016, the day before his twentieth birthday. Today, on July 31, exactly a year later and one day before he turns 21, he's scheduled to be back in court for a hearing related to a separate murder charge. And that prosecution will be followed by four more related to multiple counts of attempted murder and burglary, as well as a failed escape attempt.

If the Denver District Attorney's Office is right, Ratcliff has committed a lifetime's worth of crimes before he can legally order a beer or possess an ounce of marijuana in Colorado.

As we've reported, the incident that put Ratcliff on law enforcement's radar took place around 11 p.m. on Friday, November 6, 2015, at a residence near the intersection of South Bannock Street and West Bayaud Avenue.

The Denver Police Department tweet sent out early the next morning read in part, "#BREAKING #DPD resp to Bayaud & Bannock on report of shooting. 4 victims. 2 trans unk cond, 2 walk in @ hosp unk cond." That was followed a few hours later by another DPD tweet sharing even grimmer news: "1 party has been pronounced deceased, 1 critical, & the other 2 have non life threatening injuries. Ongoing investigation."

Prior to an official announcement of the homicide victim's identity, family members of Christian Martinez confirmed his death, with his brother, L.J. Cisneros, posting a series of tributes, including a photo collection captioned, "FUCK I MISS MY BROTHER...."

The shooting took place during a fight in which combatants spilled out of a house party, with Martinez being fatally shot in the back — and Ratcliff was subsequently named as a suspect in a Crime Stoppers alert. Another alert was issued in June 2016, and a few weeks later, at 9:40 p.m. on July 31, officers spotted a suspicious vehicle near the intersection of 35th Avenue and North Olive Street.

A Facebook portrait of Christian Martinez. - FACEBOOK
A Facebook portrait of Christian Martinez.
According to the DPD, the ride matched the description of a vehicle associated with an aggravated assault that had taken place the previous morning on the 5300 block of East 33rd Avenue. But as the officers were preparing to conduct a vehicle stop, the two occupants — Ratcliff and another male — brought the car to a halt and took off on foot.

The other male in the car was nabbed near 36th Avenue and Oneida Street and later released. But the story was different for Ratcliff. After a perimeter was set up in the area to which he ran, three officers spotted him on the 3300 block of Olive Street. At that point, Ratcliff was wounded in the stomach during what the DPD characterized as "an exchange of gunfire." He was treated, then booked for investigation of attempted first-degree murder of a peace officer, as well as warrants for first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, first-degree assault and first-degree burglary.

After a four-week trial that ended on June 23, the jury found Ratcliff not guilty of trying to kill the officer, but the first-degree-assault charge stuck.

Next on Ratcliff's agenda is what Denver District Attorney's Office spokesman Ken Lane describes as a July 31 "mandatory disposition hearing" in the Martinez shooting; he's accused of first-degree murder, plus three attempted-murder counts, two first-degree assault beefs and one second-degree assault allegation. If all goes as expected, the trial will start just over a month later, on September 5.

Also on July 31, status hearings will be held for the three other prosecutions, which the DA's office shorthands like so:
• Three counts of burglary and one count of criminal mischief in connection with the alleged burglary of a marijuana dispensary on June 3, 2016, in the 4000 block of Jackson Street. Charges were filed August 3, 2016.

• Four counts of attempted murder, four counts attempted first degree assault, four counts of menacing and one count of illegal discharge of a firearm in connection with an alleged shooting on September 27, 2015, in the 3300 block of N. Colorado Boulevard. Charges were filed August 9, 2016.

• One count of escape from pending felony for allegedly fleeing from police as he was being escorted from the city jail into Denver Health Medical Center on September 23, 2016. He was captured moments later. Charges were filed September 28, 2016.
The latter incident led to another memorable Ratcliff mug shot, in which he's clad in a hospital gown and is seated in a wheelchair. See it below.

click to enlarge Darius Ratcliff after his failed escape attempt from Denver Health Medical Center. - DENVER DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
Darius Ratcliff after his failed escape attempt from Denver Health Medical Center.
Denver District Attorney's Office
There have been no court dates set for any of the Ratcliff cases beyond the Martinez murder. DA's office spokesman Lane says all of them are before the same judge, the 2nd District Court's Morris Hoffman, and he's holding off on additional scheduling until after the resolution of the next trial.

Still, there's no question that Ratcliff will be spending his 21st birthday, on August 1, behind bars, just as he spent his 20th — and the setting will likely be the same for many birthdays to come.

Update: After the publication of this post, Denver District Attorney's Office spokesperson Ken Lane e-mailed that "over our objections, [Darius Ratcliff's] murder trial has been moved further down the calendar, until 11-28-17. So all the other cases are apparently on hold until then, as well."

Thus, Ratcliff will spend his 21st birthday in some degree of limbo, as opposed to knowing more about the next steps he'll take in his legal journey.
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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