DENVER -- It was an ugly scene that played out at one of Denver's busiest places, at one of the busiest times of day. A man leaving work from a downtown office was assaulted by a panhandler who was part of a group of "travelers" who police say regularly congregate on the 16th Street Mall.
"(The panhandler) was saying something like, 'Internet yuppie scum’ at the office worker,” said Stephen Garcia, who walked up on the assault and soon got involved.
Garcia said he has walked the 16th Street Mall most afternoons since it opened but had never been forced to confront violence until last week.
"This is the first time I'd seen somebody engage with a person just trying to go home," Garcia said.
Video of the incident shows Garcia step in as the businessman was surrounded. As the man who initiated the assault steps toward him again, Garcia gives him a shove telling him to stay back.
That’s when several other travelers get involved, exchanging shoves and punches with Garcia. The video shows a security guard looked on but failed to do much, allowing the incident to continue until a Denver police officer arrived.
"The police seemed to think that we just wanted to walk away and forget about it,” Garcia said.
Instead, Garcia and the business owner who shot the video showed it to the FOX31 Denver Problem Solvers, Denver police and the Downtown Denver Partnership.
"Make no mistake, when situations like that occur, everyone should be concerned,” said Tami Door, CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership. "The reality is that type of incident is extremely rare, but it doesn't make it OK."
On Saturday night, four days after the daylight assault, another video shared with the Problem Solvers shows an aggravated assault, which witnesses say began after panhandlers began taunting families passing by.
"They've created some challenges as it relates to being overly aggressive in panhandling, overly aggressive in approaching many of the residents and businesses on the mall," Denver police Chief Robert White said.
White said both cases were stopped by officers, and also ended in multiple arrests, but he said police still have work to do.
"I will tell you, probably, come Monday, we're going to announce some of the changes that we're going to make that we think will continue to mitigate some of these instances from occurring in the future,” White said. "You know, they have a right to be on the mall, but they don't have a right to intimidate people to the point where it's a violation of the law and we plan to address those even more aggressively than we've done in the past."
It has been several months since White and Mayor Michael Hancock said they were working to address violence on the mall.
"We're kind of looking at how we can allocate those resources, if we need to put more resources there,” White said, adding that he believes police do need more officers on the mall. “Or if there's some things we can do in concert with the businesses there on the mall."
In addition to adding officers, the Downtown Denver Partnership has hired a new security manager to better coordinate with police. It’s a step Garcia is encouraged by.
"As long as there is a police presence down there, that seems to be enough,” Garcia said. “Because if that policeman was not down there to intervene in my assault, it probably would have continued. No bystanders were coming to my assistance. That's what I learned down there. If you get in trouble, you're really on your own."
The Downtown Denver Partnership will be revealing more about the new security manager and other plans for improving mall security in the coming days. The group will be meeting with police on Wednesday to share specific strategies and plan for the rest of the summer.
It’s a meeting that has been scheduled for weeks but takes on renewed urgency in the wake of the recent assaults.AlertMe