Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s office sought to pull back his comments made last week during television interview that Denver police officers had murdered three people, saying he misspoke.
Those comments and the reversal come as Denver and the rest of the country continue to protest racism in America’s justice system. As those protests ramped up in Denver, Hancock recalled three high-profile killings in Denver in an interview with 9News. When asked if he thought Marvin Booker, Jessica Hernandez and Michael Marshall had been murdered, the mayor replied, ““Those individuals were, yes, murdered by police officers,” Hancock told the station’s Kyle Clark.
Days later, however, a spokesperson for the mayor walked the comments back, saying Hancock instead meant to say that Booker, Hernandez and Marshall had been “killed” by police officers. Hancock was not immediately available for comment.
Backlash arose swiftly on social media. Some claimed that Hancock’s initial remarks likely offended Denver’s law enforcement, prompting the change. Others dismissed the back and forth. Instead saying they found comfort that Hancock uttered the names at all.
Others, including Booker’s family, rejected the change of wording.
“For Hancock to have his epiphany moment, a moment of truth, a moment of integrity and a moment of honesty. Well, there are some things you can’t walk back no matter how hard you try,” said Spencer Booker, Marvin Booker’s brother.
Jail deputies killed Booker, a homeless street preacher, in 2010 after they restrained and shocked him with a Taser. In a 2014 federal civil rights trial a jury found deputies liable for Booker’s death, and the city agreed to pay the family a $6 million settlement.
Denver police shot and killed Hernandez, 17, after she was found in a stolen car and tried to flee. Officers opened fire, killing Hernandez, who was not armed. The city paid the Hernandez family a $1 million settlement.
Jail deputies killed Marshall, after pinning his face to the floor and applying pressure to his body for more than 10 minutes, even after he fell limp and vomited. The city paid $4.6 million to Marshall’s family.
All three deaths evoke painful memories for many. The names and stories of Booker, Hernandez and Marshall have been recalled in recent days as the protests swelled.
For Spencer Booker and his wife, Gail Booker, the wound never closed. They will not feel closure until the five deputies involved are charged and convicted, they said. The couple wrote to Denver District Attorney Beth McCann Wednesday, citing Hancock’s recent comments and asking her to file murder charges.
McCann in 2017 launched a grand jury probe into obstruction of justice and evidence tampering into Booker’s case. The grand jury’s findings were not made public when the probe ended in 2018. But the case cannot be reopened again, McCann said.
“What happened to Mr. Marvin Booker was heartbreaking, and I think about him and his family often,” McCann wrote in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for the Booker family and can only imagine their continued pain as a result of their tragedy. I will respond to them directly.”
In the general public, Hancock’s initial comments drew mixed reactions on social media, some condemned law enforcement. Others said the mayor turned on Denver’s police and deputies.
Police Chief Paul Pazen would not say whether he spoke with Hancock about the comments and a spokesperson for the city attorney said he would not be able to comment on any discussion between that office and the mayor.
Tuesday, Theresa Marchetta, a spokesperson for Hancock recanted the mayor’s previous comments.
“When asked about cases of tragic deaths at the hands of local law enforcement, the mayor used the term “murdered,” when what he meant was “killed,” Marchetta told a 9News reporter.
Spencer Booker asked Hancock to reconsider his walk back
“To thine own self be true and the people will respect you more, sir,” Spencer Booker said. “The people will rally behind you like never before. But to walk it back, we now know that you’re a lying politician.”
Remembering their names
Qusair Mohamedbhai, the attorney who represented the Hernandez family, said he and the family are indifferent to the walk back.
“It was refreshing that the name of Jessica Hernandez was on his tongue and that her death has stuck with him personally for as long as it has,” Mohamedbhai said.
The recent protests represent an emotional challenge for the Hernandez family, Mohamedbhai said. They understand the protests are necessary and look to the positive changes that have followed Hernandez’s death, including a changed in Denver police policy that forbids officers to shoot at moving cars.
“They’re happy that their daughter’s memory is being evoked, hopefully for a good cause. Her loved ones and family miss her terribly,” Mohamedbhai said.
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