A year and a half after Denver police arrested hundreds of people during massive racial justice protests downtown, a total of 33 people have been convicted of crimes related to the demonstrations.
The large-scale protests began in Denver on May 28 — two days after video showing a Minneapolis police officer murder George Floyd became public — and continued every night for more than a week. Thousands of people marched near the Capitol and through downtown calling for racial justice and police reform in that time, and sporadic protests continued throughout the summer in Denver.
Although the majority of the thousands of protesters remained peaceful, police arrested people carrying weapons and who were suspected of throwing rocks and bottles, as well as hundreds who continued to protest after a curfew set by Mayor Michael Hancock.
The Denver District Attorney’s Office and the Denver City Attorney’s Office provided The Denver Post with lists of protest-related prosecutions that, combined, totaled 389 cases. The cases involved incidents from May to September 2020.
A majority of those cases were dismissed in June 2020 when the City Attorney’s Office decided to drop charges against more than 300 people arrested solely for breaking curfew or failing to obey police orders.
When she announced the decision, City Attorney Kristin Bronson said she recognized the importance of peaceful protest and dismissed the charges to pursue a “non-punitive, restorative approach outside of the court system.”
Charges in the remaining cases ranged from municipal counts alleging public fighting to attempted first-degree murder charges for two men who drove their vehicles into groups of people.
Of those remaining 81 cases:
- 33 people were convicted at trial or through a plea deal
- 15 people received deferred judgments, meaning their case will be dismissed if they successfully complete probation and other requirements
- 11 cases were dismissed
- One person was found not guilty at trial
- 21 cases remain open
Sentences for those convicted of misdemeanors and felonies ranged between 10 days of home detention and six months in jail. Many will spend months or years on probation.
Jesse Thomas was arrested May 29, 2020, while protesting for allegedly throwing a rock at a Denver Sheriff Department vehicle. Prosecutors with the Denver District Attorney’s Office charged him with misdemeanor criminal mischief but dropped the case in November, court records show.
Having the criminal case looming over his head stressed Thomas out, he said. He said prosecutors told him they were dropping the case for lack of evidence.
“It’s kind of just been a nuisance,” he said.
Of the nine people facing state criminal charges for alleged violent crimes, the most serious charges were filed against three people suspected of driving their vehicles into groups of people.
Anthony Knapp faces charges including attempted murder for allegedly intentionally driving his car into a group of police officers on May 30, 2020. Knapp struck three officers, breaking one officer’s leg, according to police documents. Knapp pleaded not guilty to the charges at arraignment and the case remains open.
Another man, Jacob Taylor, also faces attempted-murder charges for allegedly driving into a group of protesters on June 28, 2020, near Larimer and 21st streets. The Denver police probable cause statement alleges a group of protesters near the intersection damaged the car Taylor was driving and Taylor yelled, “I swear on my mama, I’m gonna get all of you.” Taylor then drove away but returned a short time later and at 30 mph struck a man walking in a crosswalk, a police officer who witnessed the incident told investigators.
Taylor fled the scene and abandoned the vehicle, but police later found him and arrested him. He has not yet entered a plea in the case, which remains open.
A third driver, Jennifer Watson, was found guilty of reckless driving by a Denver jury for driving her car through a group of protesters on May 28, 2020. A judge sentenced her to 48 hours of community service.
Four people were charged with assault on a police officer, though more than 80 Denver police officers were injured in the first five days of protests.
Two of the criminal cases against people charged with assault on an officer remain open. One of the men pleaded guilty and received a deferred judgment, meaning the case will be dismissed if he successfully completes 18 months of probation. The other pleaded guilty to assault and received a six-month jail sentence.
Many of the others facing misdemeanor and felony charges in Denver county and district courts faced criminal mischief charges for allegations of property damage.
At least three people faced criminal mischief charges for helping to push down two statues near Civic Center Park — the Christopher Columbus statue and the Civil War Monument. All three pleaded guilty to charges and received between one and two years of probation. Two of the defendants are eligible to have their case dismissed if they successfully complete probation.
Denver police estimated the damage to the Columbus statue to be about $70,000 and that it would cost $20,000 to remount. Officers estimated the Civil War Monument, purchased for $20,000 in 1909, would be worth more than $517,000 in today’s dollars.
Despite scattered reports of looting during the protests, only four people were charged with burglary. Two of the cases were dismissed and two remain open.
Denver prosecutors dismissed or declined to file charges against at least six protesters arrested on suspicion of breaking windows of businesses or throwing rocks at windows and law enforcement vehicles.
They also declined to charge two people arrested on suspicion of breaking windows at the City and County Building, a man arrested for breaking a window at the Hot Topic store on the 16th Street Mall and another person arrested on suspicion of attempting to break windows at the History Colorado building.
Some window breakers, however, were convicted. One man pleaded guilty to breaking a store window by headbutting it and was sentenced to two years of probation. Another person pleaded guilty to the same charge for throwing a rock at windows at the Denver Pavilions building and was sentenced to six months in jail.
Thomas, the man arrested for allegedly throwing rocks at a sheriff’s department vehicle, spent three days in jail after his arrest and said he was lucky he wasn’t scheduled to work those days. He said he first went to protests in Denver on May 28 to support a friend who wanted to go, but returned the next day because of how the police treated protesters.
“I just think the worst part of it was what the police did when we were protesting,” Thomas said. “I saw them shooting their pepperball guns at people who weren’t doing anything.”