The wounds that resulted from an April 25 attack outside the Goodwill store at 21 South Broadway are nothing short of horrific.
"In about two seconds, I was stabbed five times," says the victim, who asks to be identified as C. "It cut the atrium of my heart and collapsed one of my lungs, and there was a large slash to my abdomen that luckily didn't puncture my intestine. But it was a big enough cut for them to start falling out."
The incident was sparked by, of all things, stickers — items associated with the Patriot Front, a fascist group that has been spreading its noxious messaging in assorted Colorado locations since at least last year. Secret networks devoted to fighting anti-Nazi propaganda remove and cover stickers from this and other repulsively like-minded outfits as quickly as possible across the area, but the small placards of hate continue to pop up with disturbing regularity.
The injuries that took place as a result of this recent dispute were so extensive that C remained hospitalized for eight days, tied to oxygen- and chest-tubes. A month-plus later, C is still under orders not to lift any object weighing ten pounds or more, and physical therapy isn't expected to begin until July.
The man who did the damage? A Goodwill employee, who's now out of a job. But he remains free, because at a hearing on May 13, the Denver District Attorney's Office decided not to press charges — the reason we're not identifying him here. Since the records were immediately sealed, the DA's office is precluded by Colorado law from talking about the specifics of the case or the reason for the charging conclusion. Under such circumstances, the only allowable response to inquiries is this: "No such records exist."
C isn't sure why the matter (first reported by the It's Going Down website) was dropped, either. But the circumstances offer some clues. As C notes, "I've worked doing anti-racist and anti-police and anti-fascist work for the past five-plus years in Denver and have definitely had a few arrests around those things," including one for which C's currently on probation. In light of this status and an admitted distrust of local authorities, C chose not to speak to police, instead connecting with a lawyer friend to funnel communication — although this system soon broke down. While the attorney declined Westword's interview request, C has shared some communication between them.
Although C says that talking with the cops should have been unnecessary, given the presence of numerous witnesses plus surveillance cameras in and around the store, investigators may have seen C's choice as a worrisome lack of cooperation. Couple this with the fact that C struck the Goodwill employee first, albeit after the man made physical contact with C, and the DA's office may have felt there were too many red flags for a successful prosecution, prompting them to raise a white one instead.
Of course, that's speculation — and C has a theory, too: "After taking one look at my record, the cops in Denver would know who I am and my associations as someone who's done anti-fascist work. And that could have been their reason for not moving further with charges. But dropping them on an individual like this, who is willing to stab someone over a sticker, is incredibly reckless on their part and a danger to the community as a whole."
This is how C describes the sequence of events on April 25:
"I had just finished at the Goodwill — I was shopping there but didn't find anything," C says. "I walked out onto Archer Street and on the south side of the building, I noticed two stickers from the Patriot Front. I recognized them and knew that a group had put up ones like them in the Baker neighborhood over the past couple of days."
Here's a Facebook video from the Front Range Workers' Initiative for Liberation and Defense showing stickers like the ones C saw:
"I took the stickers down," C continues, "and for the ones I couldn't pull down, I put anti-fascist stickers over them. While I was doing that, an employee came up to me. He had walked by me earlier on Archer Street — he'd been taking a break — and when he saw me removing one of the stickers, he told me not to do that. He said it was vandalism. I said, 'This isn't vandalism. These are fascist stickers, and fascism puts people in concentration camps.' Then he got in really close, face to face, and said, 'Maybe some people deserve to be in concentration camps.'"
At that point, C says, the man "put his arms forward onto my shoulder and neck area like he was going to choke me or shove me. So I immediately struck him and pushed him off."
In response, the employee "pulled out a large folding knife," C recalls, "and as soon as I saw that, I started running toward Broadway — and as I was running, I pulled out a can of Mace and Maced him."
That didn't instantly stop the man, however: "He managed to pin me up against the wall of the Goodwill and stabbed me," C says.
"I managed to create some distance between us, as the Mace started to affect him more," C continues. "I turned the corner and started running toward the front entrance of the Goodwill. At this point, I was spraying blood and my intestines were hanging out. I was using one arm to cradle them and the other arm to hold on to the Mace. He was still chasing me at this point, and I ran past the counter, looked at one of the employees directly in the face and said, 'This guy stabbed me a bunch!' But I kept running, because he was still chasing me with the knife."
Employees and customers at the store "were doing absolutely nothing," C recalls, "even though I was bleeding pretty heavily, clearly spraying blood from my body. I ran into the section with knickknacks and random household items, looking for anything I could to defend myself with, because no one was doing anything or even telling this guy to calm down. Then, for whatever reason, he stopped chasing me for a minute and I was able to take off my backpack. I had a first-aid kit in there, and because I knew I was going to pass out, I sat down near the counter and started treating myself — and after a minute or so, a lady who was a nurse came up to me and started treating me. In the meantime, the Goodwill manager, I presume, was running around telling everybody to get out of the store, including the nurse who was trying to help me. But she ignored him and kept treating me."
Shortly thereafter, an emergency crew arrived and took over C's care; someone had apparently dialed 911. Denver police officers followed and grabbed C's backpack, phone and wallet. The explanation they gave for the confiscation: "Crime scene."
Within moments, C was en route to Denver Health, and memories of this period are understandably hazy. But C eventually contacted the attorney, who reached out to police. Instead of getting back to the lawyer, though, a detective dropped by the hospital and left a card in C's hospital room. "The nurses weren't happy about that," says C, who'd been sleeping. "Denver Health has a policy of making the rooms of all stabbing and gunshot-wound patients confidential, and they wondered how he even found it."
The attorney's calls to the detective weren't returned, but a friend of C's did some investigating and managed to get a copy of the probable-cause statement before the records were sealed: The Goodwill employee was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault. More poking around revealed the scheduling of the May 13 hearing, and a woman who IDs herself as Anne was one of two people who attended on C's behalf.
Before the hearing got under way, Anne says, "someone who seemed to be from the city attorney's office came in and asked, 'Is anyone a victim of a crime?' Two people raised their hands, and one of them was the man who'd stabbed C. Me and my friend were in shock. It seemed like he was trying to claim he was a victim. Then, basically, the case was announced, and there wasn't very much discussion before the prosecuting attorney said, 'We're not filing charges.' And the man who stabbed C seemed to have some kind of understanding of what was going on, because he had a document where he could seal the records so there wouldn't even be a searchable record of the arrest."
Ten days later, Goodwill finally released a statement about the incident. It reads: "Goodwill is taking the altercation that happened at our store at 21 South Broadway in Denver on Aril 25, 2019 very seriously. The employee involved is no longer with Goodwill. Every Goodwill staff member has and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement to ensure they are able to conduct a proper and thorough investigation to determine what actually occurred. We trust our legal system is now handling the case appropriately. The safety of every Goodwill customer and employee is a top priority, and representatives from throughout the organization are dedicated to doing everything they can to ensure that our locations are secure. We have increased security presence at this store and will continue to focus on keeping our shoppers, donors and employees safe."
Contacted by Westword, a Goodwill spokesperson said nothing more could be added to these remarks because the investigation was active — and despite the case being tossed, that may be true, as suggested by the following note to C from the attorney: "Hey C, just got out of a long court hearing to a message from the prosecutor, who said they are releasing your property. The DA declined to file charges, but they passed the investigation on to the city attorney to see if they might file charges for defacing property."
No decision about a defacing charge has been reached yet, the attorney added. But the irony of the only possible charge coming out of the encounter being connected to a sticker, rather than the stabbing, isn't lost on C, who was afraid of this kind of thing all along.
A previous encounter between C and Denver law enforcement took place during a September 15, 2018, rally at the State Capitol and Civic Center Park hosted by the Proud Boys, another collection of alt-right goons, but ones who aspire to mainstreaming. They managed to coax a number of elected officials to the event, including state rep Alexander "Skinny" Winkler, a Republican from Northglenn, and a political action committee tied to then-GOP gubernatorial nominee Walker Stapleton was spotted fishing for recruits.
After the gathering, 9News revealed that a Colorado state trooper had become the focus of an investigation after a video surfaced in which he said to a group of Proud Boys, "I know some of you came here to fight. I can tell by what you're wearing. That's not happening today. If you want to fight, stick around. I've got a couple guys, they also want to fight."
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The station's coverage didn't include mention that a scuffle actually happened, but the It's Going Down site did — and C confirms what went down.
"A group of white nationalists attacked a group of anti-fascist protesters," C divulges. "A group of about ten of us had to defend ourselves, because a group of them walked up to us in the park and started to attack one of our friends. But none of the white nationalists had any legal consequences, yet six anti-fascist protesters were arrested."
Among those busted was C: "My official charge was disobeying a lawful order, and none of the charges against the anti-fascist protesters were dropped. I know one of the anti-fascist protesters beat the charges at trial, but most people took non-cooperating plea deals, and I did, too. I'm on probation on those charges, even though what I did was in self-defense."
Removing stickers might not seem a particularly perilous activity, but C says, "I've heard plenty of reports about people putting razor blades behind them so they cut anyone who tries to take them down. So we're definitely aware of the risk. But obviously, what happened to me illustrates the reality of the dangers we face every day doing this work. This is the most extreme case of violence I've seen happen to someone removing stickers."