Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
The Denver City Council last night gave approval to $65,000 in liability claims stemming from one incident described as “unwarranted police brutality” and a separate civil action against the Denver Public Library system for allegedly firing a disabled security guard after he complained about adverse working conditions.
Eric Winfield, 29, describes his “ordeal” as being about exposing police brutality incidents, especially those by the Denver Police Department. His self-described nightmare began after Game 3 of the Rockies-Boston Red Sox World Series game in Denver on Oct. 28, 2007 — an incident that left him badly beaten when police allegedly mistook him for another suspect.
Meanwhile, Denver Public Library security guard Kevin Thomas alleges in a complaint against the city that library officials refused to allow him to drink water while on duty, something he needs to do as a result of his condition known as renal dysfunction, a condition that affects the kidney. The black security guard claims that by the time he was fired in December 2007, he had experienced discrimination as a result of his disability and the color of his skin.
A brutal account
It was Winfield’s story, however, that made national headlines after photographs emerged of a badly bruised, bloodied and overall beaten Winfield who was on his way home with friends after watching Game 3 of the World Series back in 2007. Having just watched the game at the former Public House near Coors Field, Winfield and his friends and family headed to his sister’s apartment downtown for a little after-party, according to Winfield’s account of the incident. At around 1:45 a.m., Winfield and a few friends began heading home. As they walked past Le Rouge, a nightclub in LoDo, a fight had broken out by the club.
Winfield and his friends were navigating through the crowd in front of Le Rouge when he was pushed from behind into a car. Believing that Winfield was the suspect in the bar fight, Denver police punched Winfield in the face, threw him to the ground and repeatedly kneed him in the groin, according to Winfield’s account. The lead officer was Officer Antonio Milow, according to Winfield.
He was later beaten by several other officers, including Officers Glenn Martin and Thomas Johnston, according to the allegations.
With Winfield weighing in at around 160 pounds, he stood no match for the three officers, weighing at least 320 pounds, 180 pounds and 280 pounds, respectively, according to Winfield’s account.
Winfield, an oil painter, was transferred by ambulance to Denver Health following the incident where he was treated for a broken nose; lacerations above his eye and on the bridge of his nose; a burst blood vessel in his eye; bruised ribs; cracked and chipped teeth; and documented permanent nerve damage to both hands.
Winfield’s supporters established a Facebook page for him to raise awareness. At “Justice for Eric Winfield,” supporters talk about the concerns they have over police brutality, as well as concerns for Winfield himself. His painting has been affected by the permanent nerve damage, he says.
In the end, he spent more than a day locked up with felons before police charged him with assault on a peace officer. But when prosecutors reviewed the case five months later, the charges were mysteriously dropped without explanation.
“It’s coming to an end for me, but for the taxpayers and City and County of Denver citizens, it’s not coming to an end — it’s the same thing that’s been happening for years and years,” Winfield told the Denver Daily News prior to the City Council meeting last night. “It’s good for me that I can finally put this past me, but I still look forward to helping everyone else out with similar cases É this isn’t going to change anything.”
The Denver City Council last night gave approval to a $40,000 expenditure to settle Winfield’s claim.
Security guard alleges discrimination
An attorney for Kevin Thomas declined to share details of the disabled security guard’s complaint against the city. But court documents allege that Denver Public Library officials went out of their way to make life difficult for Thomas. One complaint is that Thomas asked to drink water on the job because of his medical condition, but that the request was denied.
When he complained about his treatment, Thomas was placed on disciplinary probation, according to the complaint. In November 2007, he was suspended for making his grievances known, according to the complaint.
Thomas was ultimately fired in December 2007.
He alleges that during his entire time working for the Denver Public Library system, library officials treated him differently because of the color of his skin, creating a “hostile work environment.”
Thomas’ attorney argued that he was denied due process, and city attorneys settled the case for $25,000, which the City Council gave approval to yesterday.
Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz, a steadfast fiscal conservative who always takes a close look at lawsuits against the city, said she backed the lawsuits last night because it seemed like the right thing for the city to do.
“I’m always hesitant to even approve them because I don’t want to encourage other people to file them, especially when I really don’t feel they’re meritorious,” said Faatz. “I can’t say that I really feel either one of these is meritorious, but I do feel that there are reasons that I can decide to go ahead and support it.”