There were tears in the courtroom this afternoon when friends, family members and supporters of East High School student Elhadji Samba Dioum heard Denver County Court Judge Johnny C. Barajas announce that Dioum's bail would be reduced from its original $100,000 to $5,000.
Dioum's lawyer, Gary Lozow, said that his client's bail was being posted as soon as possible. Dioum could be released as early as this evening, but more likely on Friday, December 11.
Since the student was arrested last week, he's received a groundswell of support, and even inspired the social media hashtag #FreeSamba. On December 3, Dioum was reportedly spotted with a BB gun at East High School, then detained and charged with attempted robbery. Due to the presence of a gun, the entire school was locked down and the Denver Police Department's SWAT team was called in, worrying parents and other community members.
Dioum allegedly used the BB gun to threaten another student and demand money, although he ran off before actually taking any cash. Guns, even BB guns, are prohibited on the campus — but the debate at the center of this situation is whether Dioum's actions were meant as a joke, as he has insisted since.
Many believe him, defending Dioum's character and claiming that his actions were a mistake. Dioum is originally from Senegal, and some friends say he may not have known the cultural ramifications of his actions. "My phone is ringing off the hook from people who want to help him — that's unheard of," said Lozow, Dioum's lawyer, at Thursday's afternoon hearing. Over a dozen students were at the hearing as well, all of whom say Dioum did not mean to cause any serious harm. Also present was Dioum's basketball coach, Rudy Carey, who said afterwards: "We love him, we support him. Everyone makes mistakes, and this country was founded on second chances."
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Denver Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris Penny countered by providing new details about the incident. The prosecutor says that Dioum had approached his victim — whom he didn't know — and put his arm around him, guiding him through a parking lot until they were alone before Dioum reportedly showed the gun on his hip and demanded cash. Only when four female witnesses saw them, the DA's office claims, did Dioum stop his attempted theft.
The details of the incident are sure to be contentious when Dioum's trial starts early next year.
Today's hearing focused on Dioum's bail. At the hearing originally scheduled for 8:30 a.m., Lozow called the initial bail amount of $100,000 "outrageous," adding that there was no way his client could afford it. "We're talking about a young man's life here," Lozow told the judge.
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The hearing continued this afternoon, and after additional statements from Lozow, as well as from Penny, Judge Barajas agreed that Dioum did not present an immediate threat and could be released on a $5,000 bond. Barajas did set some additional conditions: Dioum must turn over his passport and visa within 24 hours of being released, and also obey a 100-yard restraining order to stay away from another student in the investigation.
Outside the courtroom, Dioum's supporters were elated to hear that that he'll soon be free, and a group of female students whooped and high-fived.
According to Penny, the victim and victim's family felt that the original bail was reasonable.
The next procedural hearing in the case is tentatively set for January 7.