DENVER (CBS4)- The autopsy on the man who died after fighting with police and security at the Denver Zoo in July shows his death was a homicide.
On July 18, police in Denver were called to the zoo on reports of a man who was exhibiting bizarre behavior and had attacked and bit a zoo employee.
Officers said they tried to restrain Alonzo Ashley and tased him using a stun gun that doesn’t cause a shock to the whole body, but rather pain only to the area in which it is placed.
After Ashley, 29, was tased, police said he began having convulsions and stopped breathing. CPR was performed, but Ashley died. His family said what happened was murder.
“They killed my cousin for no reason. They killed my cousin but why? Why would they take him away from his family, why would they do that?,” said Ashley’s cousin Talisha Redd.
According to the autopsy report, police may have believed that his agitation, combativeness, unexpected strength and excited delirium were due to the fact that he may have been under the influence of drugs or suffering from a mental disorder.
“The information that I have is that the officers did what they needed to do. They used the minimum force necessary to take Mr. Ashley into custody,” said Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman.
But in the report, toxicology testing for Ashley was negative for all drugs except THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana. The medical examiner said that extreme environmental heat may also cause confusion, poor judgement and irrational behavior, which may have contributed to Ashley’s initial behavior.
Police said they did find drugs and drug paraphernalia on Ashley.
The autopsy report determined that physiologic stresses involved in subduing and restraining Ashley, combined with his ongoing resistance, contributed to his death.
Although his death is ruled a homicide, that is in the medical sense, meaning caused by someone else, not in the legal sense meaning murder.
“As mayor to the public, mayor to the media, I think it’s important that we have as responsible of reporting and explanation of the term homicide as we possibly can,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
Ashley’s girlfriend, Elena, said he was putting his head in a fountain to cool off when security showed up.
“They were trying to grab him but he was so aggressive. There was like five zoo keeper securities and seven cops on top of him,” Elena said. “I didn’t see from behind but there was tasers going, snapping all around and I was just freaked out. That’s when he was like, ‘Baby, I’m dying, help me.’ And I couldn’t help him.”
“I knew all along he was murdered. It was something to justify what happened,” said Redd.
Elena admitted he resisted arrest and even tried to grab an officer’s stun gun. But she insisted officers overreacted as well.
Three Denver police officers and one zoo employee suffered injuries in the incident that required treatment at a hospital.
Denver prosecutors said they won’t file charges in the case. The district attorney’s office announced the decision Friday after the Denver medical examiner said an autopsy failed to pinpoint a cause of death, therefore a criminal prosecution is neither possible nor appropriate.
The Denver Zoo released this statement Friday afternoon, “We continue to extend our sympathies to Mr. Ashley’s family during this difficult time. For us, this was an unprecedented tragedy and we remain dedicated to the safety of our guests, staff and animals.”
Ashley’s family said it will file legal action against the city. There will also be an internal affairs police investigation, a review by the chief of police and the manager of safety. The officers involved remain on street duty.