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Another unarmed Black man dead after struggle with Denver cops

August 5, 2011

And all he was trying to do was cool off at a water fountain

by Roger K. Clendening, Special to the Denver Weekly News

Denver, July 21, 2011 – Another unarmed Black man in Denver is dead this week after a questionable struggle with police and security guards at the Denver Zoo.

Alonzo Ashley with his girlfriend, Elaina
Dead is Alonzo Ashley, 28, who convulsed and stopped breathing after being tasered and taken down by up to a dozen Denver police officers and security men trying to subdue him for allegedly resisting arrest.

Ashley was taken to Presbyterian St. Luke Hospital where doctors pronounced him dead at 6:08 p.m., less than eight hours after Denver’s newly-elected mayor, Michael Hancock, an African American, was inaugurated.

Alonzo Ashley died after being tasered by Denver police for allegedly resisting arrest nine days after the one-year anniversary of Rev. Marvin Booker’s jail-based homicide at the hands of five Denver sheriff’s deputies.

And all Rev. Booker was trying to do was retrieve his shoes.

Police spokesman Sonny Jackson says that on Monday, July 18, at about 5 p.m., “several” Denver cops responded to the zoo on a “domestic violence” call involving a “violent” male suspect. Responding officers received “information that the male had threatened his girlfriend and also attacked a zoo security guard” prior to their arrival, said Jackson.

But Ashley’s girlfriend, who identified herself only as Elaina to news media, disputes the police account. She told news media that there was no altercation between her and her “friend” and “lover.”

He became stricken by the heat, went to a water fountain and tried cooling off by splashing water on his head. He was then approached in a “hostile” fashion by zoo security guards and admonished to stop, she reported.

When he didn’t, they attacked him, Elaina told news media. Less than an hour later, he was dead.

Reaction to the death was swift in coming.

While Mayor Hancock, through his spokesman Wil Alston, declined Wednesday to speak with the Denver Weekly News “until after the police investigation,” he had already responded to news media within hours of the deadly incident, while attending an inaugural concert at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

“I’ve been briefed on it,” Hancock told Fox 31 News. “It’s an unfortunate incident that occurred and it’s unfortunate he lost his life. It’s too early to tell what happened; we don’t know all the details. The reality is that we’re interviewing witnesses right now − the police are − and we’ll wait for those details to become clear to us before we pass any judgment. And we’ll ask everyone to reserve their judgment until we know more.”

“Police brutality is killing us. The death of Alonzo Ashley, like that of Rev. Marvin Booker a year ago, reminds us that it is up to the community to ensure that something is done about it,” Rosemary Harris Lytle, spokesperson for the ACLU of Colorado, told DWN in an interview.

Denver now faces the death of another person of color at the hands of Denver Police – another death involving the use of a taser – and it raises all the same questions, says Harris Lytle.

At the Denver Zoo on July 18, activist Alvertis Simmons speaks at a protest against the police killing of Alonzo Ashley. – Photo: CBS
“Should the police have used a taser at all? Was there a way to diffuse the situation so that the force of more than a dozen police officers and security personnel would not have to be used? Could the police have utilized tactics that would have prevented the worst possible outcome: The death of another Denver resident after an encounter with the police? These are questions that must be answered. They must be answered by police leaders and by the city’s leader,” Harris Lytle insisted.

“This is why the ACLU has called on Mayor Michael Hancock to make ending police brutality and the excessive use of police force the No. 1 priority of his administration,” she added. “And this is why we’ve asked the Department of Justice to launch an independent investigation of police practices in Denver.”

Alvertis Simmons, a well-respected political and community activist, told DWN he was angry about the death and vowed to work on getting justice as he did after Rev. Booker’s slaying last July.

“We as a community are sick and tired of members of our community being brutalized, shot down and, in many cases, killed at the hands of the Denver Police,” he told DWN in an interview.

“And to add insult to injury, the Denver Zoo keepers had a big hand in the death of this man,” Simmons maintains. “Are we back in the ‘50s when a Black man could get rousted and killed for using a public water fountain?” he asks.

Simmons says the Ashley death − or killing, depending on the coroner’s findings − reminds him of the Paul Childs and Marvin Booker situation.

Paul was killed at the hands of a Denver cop − Officer Turney − Simmons recalls, “And Mr. Booker was killed at the hands of Denver sheriff’s officers.

“In each instance,” he says, “The cops were accused of using excessive force.”

Simmons says that until the authorities change the cultural practices that dictate how they treat certain people and “especially people of color, these kinds of deaths will continue to happen.”

“It’s the training of the officers and the zoo people that killed that man!” Simmons insisted.

To protest the killing, Simmons and other community activists and supporters of police accountability held a rally on Friday, July 22, at 2 p.m. in front of the zoo entrance facing Colorado Boulevard and Montview Boulevard.

“Let’s get some answers and justice for this family and the community,” says Simmons.

And all he was trying to do was cool off at a water fountain.

Roger Clendening, a freelance writer and editor for the Denver Weekly News, can be reached at


12 thoughts on “Another unarmed Black man dead after struggle with Denver cops

  1. Seamus

    Tazers are dangerous. I think there's been enough incidents of Tazer use and death to warrant a ban. Plus, I think Alonzo Ashley had heat stroke. His girlfriend gives an account of feverish behavior and the first guard on scene asked if he needed paramedics. Obvious Ashley did look too well. The cops and guards should have been able to gain control of Ashley without use of electric shocks, imo.

    I'd like to see a ban on tazers

  2. guest

    of course this article doesn't state that the man had attacked the first security guard whom is btw also black. nor does it state that several people received injuries that they are still mending from while trying to subdue the man ,nor have they mentioned how erratic his actions actually were…..there is however u tube film of him arguing with his girlfriend and also him chasing after the guard that offered him help to begin with…..

  3. seamus415

    This is a disinformation website. You'll see cherry-picking of information from news stories and histories here.
    Writers rely upon mistrust of all other information as 'mainstream media,' like Fox News does.

  4. Renaldo Ricketts

    Shooting Black males is a natoional sport by the police the chances of reprimand are slim to none. Why do you think they engage in this rambo rage, hey8 can get away with it. They ssit around in cop bars and brag about the maladies they do to people. Find your local cop bar, go and hang out for a week or two ,become a regular make some absurd remark about what a great job the cops are doing and how dangerous the job is ,buy them a few beers ……shoot the bull after a while they get comfortable wiht you and drunk and start talking about how hey brutalize people,then turn around and laugh about it. We have sadist who apply for these jobs full of rage, just a question of time before their steroids kick in and bang you have a murder,they overe react ,that's the steroid working in con unction with his machismo ego. We have ignition the gasoline fumes have ignited his fractured brain and the maniacs is in full battle stance to kill all night.

      1. Selina

        I bet your retired and all you do all day is sit on you rear read this newspaper

        collect a SSI/Chck eat your pork-beans and your mad b/c your can't move out of your neighborhood because it's turn all black

        your ssi/chk can't cover the cost of a new home and moving expenses so to get your revenge you come here to vent

        :( Poor John

        1. John Mulligan

          Wow Selina, no writing in caps, no racist rants against Asians, Latinos and "A-rabs" as you like to write. I guess you're on your meds again? Hope it lasts this time.

          1. Selina

            Hey, John you remember your last month's SSI/Check that never came

            Well, guess what I took it out of your mail box I needed it to pay for some my medication

            I guess I owe you one :)

          2. Guest


            You are clearly uneducated, angry, and unwilling to find your own information rather than rely on someone else force feeding you. You just took some liberties on John here. If you're going to bash somebody, make what they say your target. With you, it's easy because you use horrible grammar, you have no facts associated with your points, and you essentially hurl insults. You have no place in forum; holler at Mark Zuckerburg. Facebook doens't care about the difference between "your" and "you're", but people that are going to speak on intellectual topics should. Take a little time, read what you say, and then deliver it. I can't stand that a subject is brought up, an article written well, and then people come in and walk all over it only to hurl insults; they should be talking about the topics to come together on the issues… TO FIX THEM, not to perpetuate them. It's disgraceful, and I hope Roger agrees.

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