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Denver Police Beating Caught on Camera: Citizen Board Criticizes Cops' Defense

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As we've reported, the video in question was captured by Levi Frasier, a bystander to an incident that took place in August near the intersection of West 5th Avenue and Federal Boulevard.

According to Frasier, police approached a vehicle occupied by a man subsequently identified as David Flores when the suspect shoved a white sweat sock into his mouth.

The presumption: The sock contained heroin, and Flores was trying to swallow it.

Shortly thereafter, Officer Charles "Chris" Jones IV and other DPD personnel took Flores to the ground, yelling "Spit the drugs out! Spit the drugs out!" And to assist him doing so, Jones punched Flores in the face six times.

Here's one image from the video....

...and another that offers a closer look at Flores amid the pummeling: As this is going on, a woman with Flores, Mayra Lazos-Guerrero, can be heard screaming. She approaches the scrum and extends her leg, at which point she's tripped to the ground.

Here's one image from that sequence....

...and another: Frasier captured these actions on his tablet, and the officers noticed, with one of them announcing, "Camera." Afterward, Frasier says the officers demanded to take possession of the device and deleted the video. But at home, he told the station was able to sync his tablet to the cloud and retrieve the footage.

Flores, for his part, was badly injured in the melee. Fox31 obtained this shot of him in an ambulance....

...and this one showing a wound on the back of his head, presumably from the impact of his skull on the pavement while he was being slugged: The police report obtained by Fox31 makes no mention of the officers deleting Frasier's video -- and when the station offered to screen it for DPD supervisors, they reportedly declined. However, Commander Matt Murray appears on camera in the station's initial piece to encourage Frasier to come forward so that the department can investigate the possibility of excessive force and impropriety. Then, on November 28, the DPD sent out a release entitled "ACCURACY MATTERS." We've included the piece in its entirety below, but this excerpt argues that preventing Flores from swallowing the heroin may have saved his life and concludes that the method used to get him to spit out the sock was the best choice available:
A violent struggle, prompted by the suspect, was already underway. This left the officers with limited options for recovering the evidence and preventing ingestion and a likely medical emergency. The officer chose not to grab the suspect's throat (to prevent him from swallowing) but instead opted to strike the non-compliant suspect several times. We feel this was the better of the two choices. These strikes did cause the suspect to comply with the arrest and to relinquish the narcotics.
Likewise, the department release maintains that pushing Lazos-Guerrero away when she chose to "intervene" was the right call and casts doubts on Frasier's story about the video being deleted amid references to his police record. The report states that Frasier "was released from the Michigan Department of Corrections in the spring of 2014, where he served a lengthy sentence for numerous charges including: breaking and entering, home invasion, and stealing or retaining a transaction device." The item adds that Frasier "has six aliases" -- monikers typically "derived by either a legal name change, or the illegal use of someone else's name or lying about one's identity to the police."

This bold strategy is ripped in a letter to Denver Police Chief Robert White from the Citizen Oversight Board, a group set up by the Mayor's Office to monitor police behavior. We've also included the letter in this post, but here's one telling passage, which notes that an investigation by the department's Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) has not yet been completed:

We strongly believe that it was not appropriate for the DPD to make these statements. There is already significant community concern and distrust of the DPD and IAB. Instead of thanking the witness who came forward to share information, the DPD publicly attacked his character. It is very likely that the DPD's attacks on this witness will only reinforce fears in the community, and inhibit other members of the public from cooperating with DPD or IAB if they witness possible officer misconduct in the future.
"Given the nature and timing of the aforementioned public statements by the DPD, as the Citizen Oversight Board, we are very concerned that the DPD may not be approaching this matter with an open mind and a willingness to look into it without bias," the letter goes on. "At this early stage of the IAB inquiry, it is not known if any misconduct was involved or not."

By the way, we'd previously noted that we were unable to find any evidence that Fox31 had reported about the DPD's "ACCURACY MATTERS" release. However, its update includes a link to a web-posting of the release time-stamped on November 28.

One more thing: In the latest Fox piece, reporter Chris Halsne says Frasier was driving to the station yesterday to participate in coverage when he was arrested by Denver police on a warrant out of another county for failure to offer proof of insurance. Halsne doesn't explicitly charge the department with retaliating against Frasier, who spent the night in stir, but his tone certainly suggests it.

Continue for two Fox31 reports, the Citizen Oversight Board letter and the original "ACCURACY MATTERS" release from the Denver Police Department.

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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