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Denver Prisoner’s Death Ruled a Homicide; Family Files Suit

The Denver area coroner’s office has ruled the death of a prisoner at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Facility (VCSDF) a homicide.

Marvin L. Booker, 56, a homeless preacher, died on July 9, 2010 after a struggle with guards at VCSDF. The incident occurred while Booker was being booked into the facility. Guards placed him in a chokehold, piled on top of him and Tasered him after he refused to go to a holding cell and reportedly cursed at a deputy. Booker wanted to first get his shoes that were nearby; as a result, he ended up dead.

The coroner found that Booker died due to “cardiorespiratory arrest during physical restraint,” with an enlarged heart, emphysema and cocaine use cited as contributing factors. According to the coroner, guards at the jail placed their entire body weight on Booker’s back for four minutes while he was face down. He also was put in a “sleeper hold” for several minutes and shocked for eight seconds with a Taser after he had been handcuffed.

The guards involved in the incident were placed on paid leave pending an investigation. The episode was recorded on surveillance video, which was released publicly.

The Denver Sheriff’s Department said “sleeper holds” were permitted under jail policy, but that the guards’ actions would be reviewed to determine if there were any violations. Undersheriff Gary Wilson prohibited the use of sleeper holds by guards at VCSDF following Booker’s death.

Booker’s family filed suit against Denver officials in February 2011. “We were forced to file this lawsuit because every time we petitioned our government and requested that justice be pursued because of [Booker’s] tragic death ... doors were slammed in our face,” said Darold W. Killmer, the family’s attorney.

The DA’s office declined to press charges against any of the guards involved in Booker’s death, stating it was mandatory for arrestees to comply with orders by jail staff.
Apparently this remains true even when jail employees use lethal force as a result of non-compliance.

In May 2011 the Sheriff’s Department released the results of its investigation, concluding that physical force was necessary to restrain Booker and that there were no violations of the jail’s use-of-force policy. None of the guards involved in Booker’s death was disciplined. His family called for a federal investigation.

“I don’t see how these officers could be cleared.... He was literally gang killed,” said Rev. Spencer Booker, Marvin Booker’s brother. “That these officers can do this is frightening for the citizens, it’s frightening for the visitors that would come to your city to know that it’s OK for these officers to do that and actually ... use excessive force and go back to work.”

Booker had been arrested for failure to appear in court on a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia; he had already posted bail when he struggled with the guards and consequently died. The lawsuit filed by his family remains pending. See: Booker v. City and County of Denver, U.S.D.C. (D. Col.), Case No. 1:11-cv-00645-RBJ-KMT.

Sources: Denver Post,,

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Related legal case

Booker v. City and County of Denver