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A 75-year-old man who suffered a cascade of health problems after a Colorado police officer used a Taser on him without warning has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the officer of also putting a knee on his neckBy COLLEEN SLEVIN Associated PressJuly 26, 2021, 9:31 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleDENVER — A 75-year-old Colorado man who suffered a cascade of health problems after a police officer used a Taser on him in his home without warning filed a federal lawsuit Monday, accusing the officer of also putting a knee on his neck and causing an injury to his carotid artery that required surgery.After former Idaho Springs Officer Nicholas Hanning used the Taser on May 30, Michael Clark says he lost consciousness and struck a chair as he fell. His lawsuit asserts that Hanning then put pressure on his neck that deprived him of oxygen, prolonged his loss of consciousness and increased his risk of death.Hanning has been charged with third-degree assault and fired. Body camera footage released last week appears to show Hanning’s knee on Clark’s neck as the handcuffed man laid on the ground after being stunned and dragged out of his apartment. The officer’s knee is not always in view, so it’s not clear how long that lasted. Within about 15 seconds, Hanning’s knee can be seen again but on Clark’s back just below the neck.A lawyer for Hanning did not immediately return a telephone call or an email seeking comment.Police initially said Clark and an officer got into an altercation before the Taser was used but later said Hanning initiated the altercation and that Clark put down a sword-like weapon when asked. Police Chief Nathan Buseck, who asked prosecutors to investigate, declined to comment on pending litigation.Colorado lawmakers passed a sweeping police reform law during nationwide protests over George Floyd’s killing last year by a Minneapolis officer who pressed a knee into his neck. It banned officers from using chokeholds, defined as any pressure that could make breathing difficult or impossible or pressure to the carotid arteries to stop the flow of blood to the brain.Clark’s body began sending blood cells to the injured carotid artery within 24 hours and he had a stroke the next day, according to the lawsuit against Hanning, another officer with him at Clark’s apartment, their supervisor and the city.According to the footage and court documents, Hanning and his partner knocked on the door to Clark’s apartment without announcing they were police. A 30-year-old woman who had just moved in next door had accused Clark of punching her in the face, which Clark later denied. The lawsuit alleges the woman was intoxicated, offered authorities varying accounts of what happened and had no injuries.Clark had yelled through the wall at his new neighbors about making loud noise as he was trying to sleep, according to the lawsuit. He answered the door with a collectible sawfish snout sword, thinking it might be the neighbors coming to confront him, but only realized it was the police once he opened the door, it said.The officers’ body camera footage shows Hanning going into Clark’s apartment and telling him to put down the sword, which Clark does immediately. The lawsuit says Hanning also kicked Clark in the knee and punched him in the head.Clark then refused the officers’ conflicting commands to get on the ground and get out of the apartment, forcefully saying “No,” the video shows. Then, as Clark was talking about his neighbors being noisy, Hanning used his Taser on him, less than a minute after Clark opened his door.Eight weeks after Clark was wheeled out of his apartment building with his arms and ankles tied to a stretcher, he has not been able to return home and is in a nursing home in need of surgery on his heart and to remove a burst appendix, according to the lawsuit. Doctors do not think his heart is strong enough to undergo surgery on his appendix and they do not want to operate on his heart and risk infection caused by the ruptured appendix, it said.
A federal appeals court is ordering a shorter sentence for “Tiger King” Joe ExoticBy COLLEEN SLEVIN Associated PressJuly 14, 2021, 10:04 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleDENVER — A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that “Tiger King” Joe Exotic should get a shorter prison sentence for his role in a murder-for-hire plot and violating federal wildlife laws.Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years in federal prison after being convicted of trying to hire two different men to kill animal rights activist Carole Baskin. A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver found that the trial court wrongly treated those two convictions separately in calculating his prison term under sentencing guidelines.The blond mullet-wearing zookeeper, known for his expletive-laden rants on YouTube and a failed 2018 Oklahoma gubernatorial campaign, was prominently featured in the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”The panel agreed with Maldonado-Passage that the court should have treated them as one conviction at sentencing because they both involved the same goal of killing Baskin, who runs a rescue sanctuary for big cats in Florida. According to the ruling, the court should have calculated his advisory sentencing range to be between 17 1/2 years and just under 22 years in prison, rather than between just under 22 years and 27 years in prison. The court ordered the trial court to re-sentence Maldonado-Passage.It’s possible that Maldonado-Passage could receive an even lower sentence than the range cited in the ruling because the court has to consider other factors too, his appeals attorney, Brandon Sample, said.Meanwhile, another attorney representing Maldonado-Passage, John M. Phillips, hinted at the possibility of seeking a new trial, saying in a statement he would be filing motions citing previously undisclosed and newly discovered evidence in the case as well as examples of government misconduct.“People should know what they saw on television isn’t the full truth. It isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. It was snowflakes on the tip of the iceberg, largely manufactured by those who wanted to see Joe Exotic in jail for their own benefit,” he said.Maldonado-Passage, who has maintained his innocence, was also sentenced for killing five tigers, selling tiger cubs and falsifying wildlife records.His supporters were disappointed that former President Donald Trump failed to issue him a pardon before leaving office. They were so confident in his chances that they had readied a celebratory limousine and a hair and wardrobe team to whisk him away from prison.In his pardon application, Maldonado-Passage’s attorneys argued that he was “railroaded and betrayed” by others and said “he will likely die in prison” because of health concerns. He is serving his sentence at a medical prison in Fort Worth, Texas.————This story has been corrected to say that the appeals court said the trial court should have calculated an advisory sentencing range of between 17 1/2 years and just under 22 years in prison, not that Maldonado-Passage should have been sentenced within that range.
Court documents say a Colorado police officer used a Taser on a 75-year-old man without warning less than a minute after he answered his door holding what authorities called a sword-like objectBy COLLEEN SLEVIN Associated PressJuly 13, 2021, 10:45 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleDENVER — A police officer in Colorado used a Taser on a 75-year-old man without warning less than a minute after he answered the door holding what authorities described as a sword-like weapon, which he had put down before being shocked, according to a court document released Tuesday.A neighbor in Michael Clark’s apartment building called police on May 30 to report that Clark had punched his female roommate in the face, according to an arrest affidavit outlining the evidence against Idaho Springs Officer Nicholas Hanning. He has been charged with third-degree assault.Hanning, who was with another officer, knocked loudly on Clark’s door twice just before 11 p.m. without announcing he was a police officer, the document said. Clark later said he did not want to answer the door because he thought it would be neighbors who had been making noise while he was trying to sleep.Clark opened the door — yelling, “What do you want?” — and Hanning forced him into a wall, according to the affidavit. Body camera footage showed Clark had what police described as a “Hawaiian sword” with shark’s teeth.Within about 10 seconds of opening the door, Clark put the weapon, which his attorney said was the bill of a sawfish, on top of a shelf but refused repeated commands to “get down” and “get out here.” Clark said, “No,” and tried to talk about how noisy his neighbors had been when Hanning used his Taser, the affidavit said. Clark fell down and hit a chair.Hanning told a paramedic who arrived that he also kicked Clark in the knee and punched him in the back of the head, the document said.Clark is still in the hospital six weeks later after the Taser shock set off a cascade of health problems, including a stroke, a burst appendix and hearing complications, said Clark’s lawyer, Sarah Schielke.“He is hanging on but not out of the woods,” she said.Schielke said Clark did not assault his neighbor and that evidence would show there were “multiple red flags” that should have tipped off police not to believe the allegation.Police and prosecutors said last week that Hanning and Clark got into a “physical altercation” and that the officer used his Taser after multiple commands by both officers.District Attorney Heidi McCollum’s office reiterated those statements Tuesday but also noted that Clark complied with the command to drop his weapon and that the officers’ orders to him after that were “contradictory.”The arrest affidavit had been sealed at the request of Hanning’s lawyer, but a judge ordered that it be released Tuesday following a request from Clark’s lawyer. The judge also ordered body camera video be made public by July 29 under a new state law.The law, which took effect when Gov. Jared Polis signed it July 6, generally requires that unedited body camera footage be released within 21 days of a request.Hanning’s lawyer, Lara Jimenez, had opposed making the video public but said she would not fight it because she thinks it will show some of the statements from Clark’s lawyer are inaccurate. Hanning has not been asked to enter a plea yet.
A suburban Denver police officer who was ambushed and killed last week has been remembered as someone with “fundamental goodness” who knew how to love othersBy COLLEEN SLEVIN Associated PressJune 29, 2021, 9:16 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleDENVER — A suburban Denver police officer who was fatally shot last week by a man investigators say was intent on killing as many officers as possible was remembered Tuesday as someone with “fundamental goodness” who knew how to love others, whether it was his wife and two teenage sons or a student overlooked at school.Speaking at a memorial service, Arvada Police Chief Link Strate said he believed Officer Gordon Beesley, 51, hated writing traffic tickets during the time he served as motorcycle officer but found his true calling when he was assigned to work with students as a school resource officer. In that role, he was able to identify those who needed his help the most.For example, Beesley used to go to work early two days a week to bike to school with a student with a developmental delay whose mother did not want him riding alone, Strate said.“He had a fundamental goodness to him that’s all too rare. His goodness stood out from the rest so significantly that you would stop and ask, ‘Why aren’t more people like Gordon?'” Strate said.Sgt. Brian Thome said that even though he did not seem to have anything in common with Beesley, a tie-dye-wearing vegetarian with an English degree who rode his bicycle to work, the two connected after Thome was intrigued by Beesley’s tattoo of what he thought was a wolf. It turned out to be the rambunctious Great Pyrenees-Labrador mix named Buster that he adopted after two other families struggled to care for him.No one discussed the ambush of Beesley on June 21 during the private service at Flatirons Community Church in the city of Lafayette, which was streamed online. Beesley, back on patrol after the end of the school year, was shot while responding to a report of a suspicious person in Arvada’s historic downtown, about 7 miles (10 kilometers) northwest of downtown Denver.Ronald Troyke ran after Beesley, yelling at him, and shot him when he turned around, police said. Johnny Hurley, who had been shopping in a store nearby, came out and fatally shot Troyke with his handgun. Hurley, whom police have described as a hero, was shot and killed by a responding officer who saw him holding Troyke’s AR-15. An investigation into that shooting is underway.Police have released excerpts from a document written by Troyke that said he planned to kill as many Arvada police officers as he could, seeing his actions as a way to hold police accountable.Focusing on the tragedy, Thome said, would be a disservice to Beesley. Family and friends recalled his love of music, having fun and being silly, going on outdoor adventures with his family and buying and fixing up bicycles to give to children.Lead pastor Jim Burgen, recalling what he learned about Beesley from talking to his family, urged people to follow his example.“Go home and love your family better. Love your wife. Dance in the living room. Listen to your kids with understanding this time. Bring fresh flowers home. Play music. Drink wine. Laugh more. Buy a kid a bike. Find the balance between order and mercy,” Burgen said.
A police officer who was one of three people killed in a shooting at a suburban Denver shopping district was a school resource officer known for developing relationships with studentsBy COLLEEN SLEVIN Associated PressJune 22, 2021, 8:57 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleDENVER — A police officer who was one of three people killed in a shooting at a suburban Denver shopping district was a school resource officer with a reputation for taking a compassionate approach with students.Police have not explained what started Monday’s shootout that also killed a suspect and a man they described as a “Samaritan” near a library in historic downtown Arvada that is home to popular shops, restaurants, breweries and other businesses about 7 miles (10 kilometers) northwest of downtown Denver.Authorities were expected to disclose more information about the shooting sometime Tuesday. They have not made public the identities of the other two people who died.With school out for the summer, officer Gordon Beesley was working on patrol when police said he was hit by gunfire shortly after a report of a suspicious incident that authorities have not described.Beesley worked for the Arvada Police Department for 19 years as a patrol officer and as a motorcycle traffic officer before being assigned to work with students at Oberon Middle School.According to his school resource officer biography, he played the drums in a band and enjoyed hiking, biking, skiing, and camping with his family. His motto was “Look for the good in every day.”While working at the school, Beesley tried to to to help students who got into trouble from being prosecuted with crimes and reminded them and their parents that they would get through any problems they had, school counselor David Ruppert said.Beesley once convinced a student he worked with who did not want to school to get out of his car and attend classes, Ruppert said.“The kids gravitated toward him. They looked at him as someone I can go to,” Ruppert said.In 2015, Beesley began biking to school alongside a seventh grader with developmental delay after learning that he was really interested in bicycles but that his mother did not want him riding alone, according to a KUSA-TV story.Ruppert was one of about 30 school staff members who walked from the scene of the shooting to the growing makeshift memorial for Beesley that was created outside the police department and city hall. Flowers were piled on top a police cruiser and bicycle festooned with U.S. flags and balloons.The shooting in Arvada came three months after a gunman opened fire and killed 10 people, including a police officer, at a supermarket in Boulder, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Arvada.After he was killed Monday, about 100 people — some holding American flags and pro-police flags — gathered as procession of police cars and motorcycles escorted the hearse carrying Beesley’s body to the coroner’s office.Among them was Elaine Magnuson, who choked up as she watched. She originally thought the huge police response in the area indicated that a car accident might have happened — not a shooting that killed a police officer.“It’s so close,” she said.
A Denver judge says a baker who won a partial victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple violated Colorado’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to make a birthday cake for a transgender womanBy COLLEEN SLEVIN Associated PressJune 16, 2021, 11:25 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleDENVER — A Colorado baker who won a partial victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to make a birthday cake for a transgender woman, a state judge has ruled.In Tuesday’s ruling, Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones said Autumn Scardina was denied a cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate her gender transition on her birthday because of her transgender status in violation of the law. While Jack Phillips said he could not make the cake because of its message, Jones said the case was about a refusal to sell a product, not compelled speech.He pointed out that Phillips testified during a trial in March that he did not think someone could change their gender and he would not celebrate “somebody who thinks that they can.”“The anti-discrimination laws are intended to ensure that members of our society who have historically been treated unfairly, who have been deprived of even the every-day right to access businesses to buy products, are no longer treated as ‘others,‘ ” Jones wrote.The group representing Phillips, Alliance Defending Freedom, said Wednesday that it would appeal the ruling, which ordered him to pay a $500 fine. The maximum fine for each violation of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act is $500. But it was not clear from the ruling if the fine was for the two attempts that Scardina made to order the cake or just one.“Radical activists and government officials are targeting artists like Jack because they won’t promote messages on marriage and sexuality that violate their core convictions,” the group’s general counsel, Kristen Waggoner, said in a statement.Scardina, an attorney, attempted to order the cake on the same day in 2017 that the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear Phillips’ appeal in the wedding cake case. Scardina said she wanted to “challenge the veracity” of Phillips statements that he would serve LGBT customers, but her attempt to get a cake was not a “set up” intended to file a lawsuit, Jones said.One of Scardina’s attorneys, John McHugh, said the case is about how LGBT people are treated, not just what happened to her.“This is about a business that is open to the public that simply says to an entire class of people in the community that your identity, who you are, is something that is objectional,” he said.