Still Fighting

The last time Mike Quintana made the papers, he wanted to run for Denver City Council.

He didn't. But just as it seemed like the Graffiti Avenger's fifteen minutes of fame were up, he has settled in for a lawsuit against the city over an incident in which he says a Denver police officer roughed him up.

The charges stem from a well-publicized arrest two years ago, in which Quintana and his father, Mike Quintana Sr., were both charged with carrying and later brandishing a concealed weapon at a May 23, 1998, boxing benefit honoring Mike Sr.'s father, Ray, who had just passed away. In the suit, filed last spring, Quintana claims that officer Sheldon Doell whacked him upside the head with a nightstick and refused him medical treatment for nearly six hours.

The men were en route to the event at the Globeville Recreation Center, located in a scrap of neighborhood a few blocks south of Interstate 70, when Mike Sr. realized he was still carrying his gun, a pocket-sized .22-caliber Derringer that he says he had planned to use for target practice earlier in the day and had forgotten was still in his pants.

"It's a small pistol," he says. "It's not a 9mm."

Since he didn't want to leave the gun in the car for fear it might get stolen, he just kept it -- in his left hip pocket.

The gym was crowded when the Quintanas entered around 4:30 p.m., and Mike Sr. quickly got into an argument with a kid about whether the kid was staying in school. He called Mike Jr. over to help out, saying, "Take care of this kid. Take him outside, calm his ass down." Mike Jr. did as he was told, and he and the kid returned a few minutes later.

Everything was fine until 5:15 p.m., when a large Denver cop entered the gym, approached the elder Quintana and asked him if he could step outside. There, the cop's partner was waiting. "Do you have a gun?" the first cop asked. (Both Quintanas suspect that Ray's widow, Lou -- who died last year -- ratted Mike Sr. out to police because they had had an argument that day and she knew Mike Sr. was carrying.)

Mike Sr. said yes, and was promptly cuffed.

"It was a dumb mistake he made by having the gun in his pocket," Mike Jr. says of his father. It might have been a dumber mistake for Mike Jr. to do what he did next, but by then he had earned a reputation for impulsive moments.

Mike Jr. burst out of the gym as his dad was being cuffed and claimed, "It's my gun! Don't take my dad!" At that time, Mike Sr. was in need of a heart transplant, and his son says he was worried that the stress of the moment might worsen his dad's health. But the old man is an ex-Marine who says he stays pretty calm when he's "under fire."

Mike Jr. is not an ex-Marine, however. He told police he had given the weapon to his father before they entered the gym. He, too, was promptly handcuffed by Denver Police Technician Sheldon Doell, a young training officer who arrived on the scene a few moments after his colleagues. In the paperwork Doell later filled out, he wrote that he was prepared to uncuff the younger Quintana, but then he said, "We'll see how much of a man you are when the cuffs come off," so Doell decided that "un-handcuffed, the defendant would make matters worse because he was very agitated."

Though the court documents give little detail about Doell's version of what happened, federal judge Michael Watanabe, in paraphrasing the defense's general contentions, wrote that "because of his actions and his highly agitated state, Mr. Quintana was restrained for officer safety. During this time, Mr. Quintana yelled profanities at and threatened the officers."

Mike Jr. claims he was calm and cooperative when Doell suddenly, and for no reason, hit him in the back of the head with his nightstick. Doell's report doesn't mention this, but Mike Jr. says that during Doell's deposition Doell claimed that Quintana banged his head bouncing around the squad car en route to District Two.

What's clear is that Quintana got clocked somehow. A Denver Health Medical Center report completed at 10:30 that night -- hours after Quintana was arrested -- states that Quintana had been hit on the "left side of face" that afternoon. The physician on call wrote that his left eye was swollen shut and that he also had a bruise on his arm. (For his part, Mike Sr. was booked and released that night, and was eventually given forty hours of community service and a $350 fine.)

A few months later, in July, Quintana was found not guilty of the gun charges.

According to Doell's attorney, Ted Halaby, the young officer "denies striking him with any object." Halaby didn't want to elaborate on how Quintana may have been injured, however. "I really cannot comment on the evidence of the case," he says, adding that Doell has no comment either. (Doell did not return phone calls from Westword.)

This was not Quintana's first run-in with police, however. An earlier arrest -- and the one that made him briefly famous -- happened in October 1997, when he apprehended three kids who for months had been tagging the Sloan Lake Boxing Club near the corner of 17th Avenue and Sheridan. As the cops were leading the trio away, one of the kids said something that pissed Quintana off. He then grabbed a spray can and sprayed the juveniles. The kids pled guilty to defacing public property and got off with a bit of community service. Quintana was charged with misdemeanor assault. (In July 1998, he was found guilty of the assault charge and sentenced to forty hours community service and a $29 fine.)

When word of his deed broke in February 1998, though, instant celebrity followed: He appeared on local television and radio talk shows, got a public hug from Mayor Wellington Webb and was invited to join a new city task force on graffiti. Quintana chased taggers off the roof of an auto-body shop, picketed one tagger's North Denver home and placed signs in a Westminster community alerting neighbors that another tagger lived nearby. Quintana talked about running for city council and cleaning up the city -- even though he lived in Arvada ("Brush With Greatness," May 13, 1998).

These days, however, he tries to keep a low profile. He says he still keeps up on the anti-graffiti front and just helped repaint a tagged piece of the Boulder Turnpike. He sells burritos now. He's also embroiled in a worker's-comp case against a former employer. He is suing the police, he says, to let people know about police abuses, and cites Doell as one more example of the bad apples that have made the Denver Police Department look like a bunch of thugs recently.

Mike Sr., who received his heart transplant last February, is more forgiving. "As much of as an idiot as he is, he's probably got a lot of potential," he says of Doell.

As for his son, the elder Quintana says, "He's trying to do for the community, but people are trying to tie his hands, and it's frustrating."

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T.R. Witcher

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