DENVER (CBS4) – Family and friends of a man who died after being hit with a stun gun in a confrontation with police at the Denver Zoo say authorities overreacted when reports of trouble came in.
They are holding rallies and vigils as more facts about the case are being made public, including a strange detail that the man told a security guard he was a lion.
Alonzo Ashley, 29, died on Monday after the Denver Zoo says he brutally attacked a security guard and then violently resisted arrest by Denver police officers.
Those close to Ashley told CBS4 Thursday that he had actually been at the zoo three times last week. They are wondering why zoo officials didn’t call an ambulance when reports came in that Ashley was having apparent health issues and instead called police.
“To me my brother was murdered,” Lendell Ashley, Alonzo’s brother said.
Denver Zoo spokeswoman Tiffany Barnhart said in a news conference Thursday afternoon that the zoo wants to “provide some clarification” in the case.
She said the trouble started after a zoo staff member reported Ashley was passed out near the elephant exhibit.
A security guard responded and he found Ashley with his head in the water fountain.
“Our security officer approached him and asked if he was okay. He asked this several times and got no response,” Barnhart said.
He then began yelling at his girlfriend, knocking over trash cans and making irrational statements.
“Mr. Ashley claimed several times that he was a lion,” Barnhart said.
Ashley’s girlfriend Elena, who requested that CBS4 not use her last name, said that’s not true.
“No, he never said that he was a lion. What was going on? He just told them to leave him alone and that’s it,” she said.
Zoo security called police and while on the phone Ashley “ran at our officer and was threatening him,” according to the zoo.
“Mr. Ashley chased our security officer, tackled him to the ground and began punching him,” Barnhart said.
Police say that when they arrived Ashley refused to comply with their commands. When they tried to arrest him Ashley attacked both them and zoo security. At one point he allegedly bit an officer.
Police used a stun gun in their response and Ashley began having convulsions and stopped breathing. CPR was performed, but he died quickly.
“Did your brother have a mental health issue?” CBS4′s Jodi Brooks asked Ashley’s brother.
“No,” Lendell said.
“Did your brother have a drug problem?” Brooks asked.
Police do say drugs and drug paraphernalia were found on Ashley.
“My brother he was big on drinking water, taking vitamins, and exercising,” Lendell said.
The medical examiner’s office has said the cause and manner of death need more investigation. A toxicology report will take about six weeks to complete.
Earlier this week Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson said it was a case of “an individual who you can’t get to comply.”
“You can’t just let him walk off for fear he might injure somebody else. So you have to take whatever actions you can to stop the situation,” Jackson said.
Ashley’s family met with the chief of staff for Mayor Michael Hancock earlier this week. On Thursday night they joined friends and held a vigil for him. One sign a woman at the vigil was holding stated “I’m sick and tired of Pigs killing our BLACK MEN … you’ve been warned I AM A LIONESS.”
Friends and family plan to hold a rally at the zoo on Friday afternoon.