DENVER (KDVR) — Surveillance video shows Lou Charara was on the phone with 911 when he was attacked in front of his downtown business by a homeless man with a machete.
The 60-year-old owner of the methadone clinic, whose 911 call was confirmed by Denver Department of Safety dispatch records, said he needed dozens of stitches and a CT scan to ensure he didn’t have brain damage.
“I was on the phone with 911 telling them, ‘Please, please, please, we need you here. We’ve been calling a few days now and we feel threatened,'” said Charara, the owner of Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center at 2217 Champa St.
He told the Problem Solvers the machete slice “was so deep that it broke the skull.”
The Feb. 8 attack happened two days after Charara’s office manager, Roman Oleksyn, had called Denver dispatch himself to complain about a homeless tent on the sidewalk near the clinic’s front door.
He also submitted a complaint, dated Feb. 6, to the city’s website, writing in part: “Tried to contact non-emergency line but gave up after waiting on hold. Please address asap as it disturbs our business.”
Oleksyn said the only response he received was an email that said: “Case closed.”
“In this case, given how close it was to us and how many times we called and asked for the help, just wasn’t dealt with right,” said Oleksyn, whose online submission included a photo of the tent.
Clinic owner may sue Denver after machete attack
Oleksyn said two days before the unidentified man attacked his boss, he tried asking the homeless man to move his tent.
“I’m like, ‘Sir, we really need to move your tent because it disturbs our business.’ And he just responds to me, you know, ‘Leave me alone,’ or, ‘I’ll f—ing kill you.'”
Two days later, Oleksyn said, the man nearly made good on his threat when he jumped out of his tent and swung a machete at Oleksyn and Charara, while Charara was calling 911. The man remains unidentified and has not been caught.
“I would say start taking people more serious … there is a call for help. Actually respond to it,” Oleksyn said.
Charara’s attorney sent the city of Denver a notice of possible legal action related to Charara’s injuries.
A Denver city attorney responded with a letter stating the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act limits the city’s liability for damages and denied his claim for compensation, writing the city had, in essence, no legal duty under Colorado law to proactively intervene.
“It’s about the police and the response … Why would they tell us they’re coming and they don’t come?” asked Charara, who said he has sympathy for the homeless.
He estimates they make up a fourth of the methadone patients he serves.
But he told FOX31 he was never OK with a tent outside his business’ front door or a city that would fail to respond to its remaining downtown merchants.
“We are American citizens. We need to be protected by our government, by our police. And I feel like we were let down,” Charara said.
How Denver responds to encampment complaints
The city of Denver shared the following statement with the Problem Solvers:
The online complaint was received through PocketGov, an online tool that the city previously used to allow residents to conduct some city business without having to speak to a person, including reporting encampments. Individuals who used this tool to report encampments received a “case closed” notification, meaning that the complaint had been assigned to the appropriate city agency for follow up. Since the city has moved over to a new online tool, the “case closed” response has been updated to share more information with complainants to better set expectations on next steps.
Given the high volume of complaints the city receives about encampments, a daily report of encampment complaints is shared with city stakeholders involved in encampment response. This report is discussed daily at meetings to identify priority encampments or areas and assign complaints to the appropriate team for follow up. Responses are coordinated by the Encampment Response Program Executive in the Mayor’s Office and can include outreach, public and environmental health assessments, trash and debris removal, enforcement of applicable law, and/or a large-scale cleanup. Complaints are responded to as quickly as possible, and responses are prioritized based on reported and documented public health and safety risks. This complaint did not note any immediate public health or safety risks, so it was assigned to the Department of Housing Stability’s Early Intervention Team (EIT) for follow up. While EIT does not share specific information about interactions with people experiencing homelessness, they did respond to the location. Non-emergency calls received about encampments that do not note an immediate public health or safety risk are added to the same daily report to be addressed. A police response to a general encampment complaint is unlikely as officers are typically tied up responding to higher priority calls. If there is an immediate public safety risk, police will respond to the encampment. As always, we ask that individuals continue to use online reporting options and the non-emergency number to submit general complaints about encampments unless there is an immediate danger, in which case the individual should call 911 for a police responseCity of Denver
Denver mayoral candidates respond
FOX31 asked both mayoral candidates to weigh in with how they would want to see the city of Denver respond in the future.
Here is the statement from Mike Johnston:
Violence and threats like in this situation are unacceptable in Denver, and I’m glad to see that Lou is recovering. When there are clear threats of violence, the city must act swiftly to prevent it from happening. It’s clear that our police department is severely understaffed, which is why I’ve committed to adding 200 additional first responders, including officers, so they have the capacity to respond to situations like this. It also highlights the need to have homelessness policies that help unhoused individuals get into stable housing with wraparound mental health and addiction services, and off the streets.”Mike Johnston, Denver mayoral runoff candidate
And here is the statement from Kelly Brough:
This story highlights the interconnected nature of public safety and homelessness. I will bring a comprehensive approach to address both. First, we need to fill the 100+ vacancies on the DPD for sworn officers, expand non-officer responders to help people in crisis connect to services and ensure a fully staffed 911 response center so we can provide a more timely and responsive community safety system. I’m proud to have earned the trust and endorsement of the police union and will partner with our officers and community-based non-profits to ensure we’re fully staffed with officers and civilian responders. Second, I will work regionally to get people to safer locations immediately. We can’t do this work alone. Ending unsanctioned encampments humanely and as quickly as possible will improve the safety of everyone.Kelly Brough, Denver mayoral runoff candidate