Protest Watch

Video: Denver Cop Pulls Down Man's Underwear During Improper Arrest

A screen capture from a video of Marquise Harris's 2018 arrest an instant before a police officer lowers his underwear as part of a search.
A screen capture from a video of Marquise Harris's 2018 arrest an instant before a police officer lowers his underwear as part of a search. Denver Police Department via Marquise Harris
The ongoing downtown Denver protests that began late last month following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police have expanded to focus on the frequency with which people of color, and particularly black men, are rousted and worse by law enforcement authorities across the country.

This issue is at the center of a lawsuit recently filed against several Denver police officers, Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann and others by brothers Marquise and Dedrick Harris over separate arrests involving the pair, both of which were captured on video.

In November 2018, Marquise was busted for an alleged drug crime and forced to undergo a search in which his underwear was pulled down and his posterior groped; charges of interference with a police officer and false information were subsequently dismissed by a Denver County Court judge, who found no reasonable rationale for the arrest in the first place. Several months later, Dedrick was taken into custody while waiting to get his car serviced; that charge, too, was eventually tossed. His brother's arrest was harassment aimed at him, Marquise suggests, since it was conducted by the same officers who'd hassled him earlier and were the focus of a damning report he'd already made to the Denver Police Department.

Contacted by Westword about the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the Denver City Attorney's Office declined comment because the complaint is pending, while a representative for McCann said that her office had not yet been served. That contradicts an assertion made by Marquise, who says that on June 4, a staffer at the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, where the suit was filed, told him that all defendants had been provided with the document.

Marquise describes his arrest and the search to which he was subjected as both "degrading" and all too typical. "You can see this happening all the time, with Denver police aggressively stopping our youth and searching them in broad daylight," he says. "It reminds us of back in slavery days, when they used to castrate the man and pull down their pants and stick things up their anus to dehumanize them."

He considers what happened to him a sexual assault, and called on McCann to press charges against the officers involved. But in September 2019, McCann declined to do so, in part because "there is no evidence" the officer "touched or probed your body," she said in a response to Marquise Harris's request.

On November 6, 2018, Marquise was walking home from a basketball game through an alley behind the 1100 block of Xenia Street, near where he lives, when "all of a sudden I hear a car driving at a high rate of speed coming behind me," he recalls. "I turned around and briefly stopped. At first I didn't realize it was the police, until they got closer, and an officer, a white officer, jumped out of his vehicle and said, 'How are you doing?' I said, 'What the fuck are you stopping me for?' and started walking off."

At that point, Marquise continues, the officer said, "Stop," but he kept going, eventually breaking into a run, even though he hadn't done anything wrong. He explains the decision by pointing out that "in the last couple of years, it's not a good idea to be in an alleyway with a police officer, even if it's in the daylight." He also had a large amount of cash in his pockets: approximately $3,000 from a recently settled case in Adams County.

During the pursuit, Marquise maintains that the officer "was fabricating as if I was reaching for a gun," even though he was actually pulling up his pants, which he wore sagging below the waist. Then, Marquise says, "he jumped onto my back and put me into a chokehold and we went into a spin — and then other officers rammed my face into the side of the car and they pulled me off the ground and started searching me."

Here's video of the arrest:

After being placed in the squad car, Marquise was told by the officers that they'd witnessed him conducting two separate hand-to-hand drug transactions — an accusation he calls "complete fiction." He was also accused of having falsely identified himself as his brother, Dedrick, which he also denies.

Upon his release from jail, Marquise filed complaints about the officers and requested their body-camera footage. He also identified an apartment complex near where the supposed drug transactions had taken place and attempted to obtain security video to prove that he hadn't been there. But during this effort, he was arrested and accused of trespassing — another charge that was later dismissed.

On March 1, 2019, Dedrick Harris was arrested; here's the video from that incident:

Prior to Dedrick's arrest, Marquise, acting as his own attorney, had filed a motion asking to suppress any evidence against him in the November 2018 bust because the officers had no justification for stopping him in the first place — and on March 27, 2019, Judge Gary M. Jackson of Denver District Court agreed.

"In summary, the Court finds there was no reasonable suspicion to arrest the Defendant for committing, committed or about to commit a crime," Jackson writes in a document also accessible here. "The Court further finds the fruit of poisonous tree doctrine applies and that all evidence regarding the Defendant's conduct after failing to respond to a police command to stop is suppressed. ... The charges of interference with police officer and false information is suppressed."

By then, the charges against Dedrick had also been dropped, and over the months that followed, the brothers continued to call for discipline against the officers involved. When that didn't happen, Marquise decided to file a lawsuit.

"I just think it's an injustice," he says. "And it's a story that needs to be told, because not only me, but black men living all over Colorado suffer the same thing every day."

Click to read the Marquise and Dedrick Harris lawsuit, the judge's order dismissing the original charges and Denver District Attorney Beth McCann's letter declining prosecution.
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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