Video: Denver Police Brutalize Restrained Drug Suspect, Pregnant Girlfriend
The Denver Police Department is defending an officer who was caught on video repeatedly punching a drug suspect’s head into the pavement and knocking his pregnant girlfriend to the ground, footage an eyewitness claims the officers erased from his tablet.
The video footage, shot in a parking lot at Fifth Avenue and Federal Boulevard by bystander Levi Frasier in August, shows Denver officers Charles “Chris” Jones IV and his partner, Christopher Evans, joining undercover narcotics officers in restraining 26-year-old David Nelson Flores, who was suspected of swallowing heroin during a bust.
In the video, Jones can be heard repeatedly ordering Flores to “spit the drugs out.” The unarmed suspect, who has been dragged from his vehicle and tackled to the ground by officers, has his arms pinned behind his back and is completely unable to resist. Yet Jones forcefully punches Flores at least six times in his face, slamming his head into the pavement. The video shows his head bouncing up from the ground after each brutal punch.
“Those were the hardest punches I have ever heard,” Frasier told Fox 31. “I’ve seen some people get punched in the ring and on TV and whatnot, but the sound of those resonating, I mean, it was scary. I’ve never heard anything louder than that and I used to cage fight for quite a while and I’ve never seen punches harder than that.”
A woman can be heard screaming as Jones ferociously pummels Flores’ face. That woman, 25-year-old Mayra Lazos-Guerrero, is the suspect’s girlfriend. She was also seven months pregnant. Shortly after her screams, she appears in the video frame, approaching the officers before Jones reaches out and trips her. Lazos-Guerrero falls hard on her stomach and face.
According to police reports, Jones said he believed the woman was going to kick him. Frasier told Fox 31 he didn’t see it that way.
“She was screaming like, ‘What are you doing. Let him go! Let him go! Stop hurting him! What are you doing?,’” Frasier said. “She was just concerned for him. You could clearly hear that and as she got closer.”
Police reports state Jones punched Flores because he wanted to recover the alleged heroin and prevent him from choking on it. Jones also stated he feared an undercover officer’s arm was pinned under the suspect.
Frasier, who recorded the incident on his tablet, claimed the officers, one of whom can be heard yelling “camera” in the video, confiscated the device and deleted the video. Frasier says the footage survived because it was stored in the cloud.
Former Brighton, Colorado detective Mark Carlson, who was hired to analyze Frasier’s video for the drug suspect’s potential criminal case, said he believes the officers used excessive force.
“There’s no obvious and immediate threat of a weapon,” Carlson told Fox 31. “I just don’t see how either swallowing evidence or they’re worried about him choking is justifying that degree of force. I mean, you’re risking, ‘We don’t want you to choke, so we’re going to fracture your face instead?’”
The Denver Police Department is standing behind its officers, the Denver Post reports.
“Use of force often is not pretty,” Murray said Friday. “We have to look at it and decide: Is it legal, and is it within the department’s policy?”
Murray also defended Jones’ takedown of the heavily pregnant Lazos-Guerrero.
“They were wrestling with a felon to arrest him, and she jumped in,” Murray said. “It’s unfortunate the pregnant woman chose to jump in.”
Carlson also said that tripping the woman was a reasonable use of force.
“I’m sure I would react similarly,” he told Fox 31. “Whether it’s pushing her, jumping up to confront her, grabbing her, whatever it is, because you’re not sure what the threat is.”
The Denver Police Department’s internal affairs division investigated the incident, finding no officer wrongdoing.
“On each level, the officers were found to be within the law and within the department’s policy,” Murray told the Post.
Internal affairs wants to inspect Frasier’s tablet to determine whether officers indeed deleted his video footage of the incident.
Flores faced a charge of resisting arrest and two felony drug charges. Lazos-Guerrero faced charges for obstruction, drugs and child abuse due to the presence of a minor in the vehicle at the time of the incident. Neither of the suspects showed up for their last court appearance. Both are now considered fugitives.