Protesters vs. agitators: Few arrested more than once at local demonstrations

Problem Solvers

DENVER (KDVR) — Some people who were involved in Denver’s recent protests have been arrested or detained at more than one recent demonstration, and a few are accused of destroying property, according to documents obtained by the FOX31 Problem Solvers.

“Protests are welcome in the City and County of Denver. It’s a right in our country,” said Murphy Robinson, Denver’s executive director of public safety. “Demonstrations are welcome in the City and County of Denver. What’s not welcome in the City is looting. What’s not welcome is destruction and violence. I won’t tolerate it. My officers won’t tolerate it, and so we won’t have it,” he told the FOX31 Problem Solvers.

While most protesters did not appear to have repeat run-ins with the legal system, the Problem Solvers found a group of four people who were charged with a crime or a misdemeanor more than once for their alleged actions during a protest.

In early November, police arrested River Dougherty for criminal mischief near the state capitol. Dougherty was accused of using a hammer to break parking meters and smash glass windows at the FirstBank building in downtown Denver, according to court records. 

Police records showed Dougherty had been contacted by police in June for violating curfew, but the city dropped the charge.

In 2017, Dougherty pleaded guilty to local charges for playing a role in a demonstration that blocked traffic. Dougherty was accused of pushing past officers, kicking an officer and resisting arrest, according to court records. 

However, a plea agreement with the city allowed for Dougherty to withdraw the plea, and the city dismissed the case, according to Ryan Luby, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office.

Dougherty preferred not to speak publicly about the current case until it is dismissed, but provided a statement to the FOX31 Problem Solvers:

Police can allege whatever and therefore arrest whoever they please, and the question to consider is why and for what their enforcement serves. It wasn’t until I identified myself and they confirmed that information with my fingerprints in jail that I was charged with a felony. Someone with enough contextual insight of recent repression in Colorado would be able to tell the general degree of targeting, as well as who’s really been systemically provoking who.

Robinson, who would not speak specifically about any case, said he and his officers are working to make sure the citizens and the City stays safe. 

“If you’re there to protest, protest, but if you see things escalating, if you see things getting out of control and you see it going to a situation that can land you in a place that you don’t want to be, leave the area.  That would be my advice,” he said.

Many protesters deny causing trouble and say the police department is creating the conflict.

“It’s every American’s civic right and in my opinion, their responsibility to protest illegal behavior by the government, “said Birk Baumgartner, the managing attorney at Baumgartner Law. 

Baumgartner is not connected to Dougherty, but said he is preparing a lawsuit against the city on behalf of dozens of protesters who feel they’ve been victimized by police actions during recent demonstrations.

“I think that the Denver Police absolutely do target people who consistently show up and protest the Denver Police Department’s illegal activities,” said Baumgartner.

Baumgartner said his office represents three protesters who will be plaintiffs in upcoming cases, including Jill Hunsaker, Zoey Harshman and Timothy Montana, all of whom have been charged or arrested more than once for alleged crimes related to recent protests.

Montana, 29, has been accused of obstruction and assaulting an officer for his alleged actions at recent protests and homeless sweeps.

In one case, he was accused of pushing through a line of officers and using his fingernails to dig out “two large bloody tracks between (the officer’s) elbow and wrist,” according to court records. In another case, he was accused of physically interfering with a police officer by pulling on a suspect who police were trying to detain.

Baumgartner and his colleague, Daniel Mossinghoff, would not permit Montana to speak on the record to the Problem Solvers but said they deny the charges against him.

“Tim Montana is an intelligent, gentle, conscientious young man who is doing what he believes is his civic duty,” said Baumgartner.

“He is very non-violent. He has never been in trouble with anything outside of these recent charges,” said Mossinghoff, who claimed his client’s desire to attend more protests has been chilled by the City of Denver.

Baumgartner and Mossinghoff said they are more disturbed with images they obtained, showing how Montana was detained after one of the incidents. They described it as a “knee-on-the-neck,” or, the same maneuver that preceded George Floyd’s death.

“They’re now claiming that Mr. Montana did something to justify that action, which isn’t justifiable,” said Mossinghoff.

Harshman, who is referenced as Xavier in court documents, has been accused of pouring red paint on the capitol grounds during a protest in September. 

The Denver District Attorney’s office initially dismissed a related case against Harshman but told the FOX31 Problem Solvers that prosecutors are still pursuing the case. Harshman is also facing a felony charge after being accused of driving a getaway vehicle for people who were destroying the Christopher Columbus statue during a June protest.

Hunsaker, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to disobeying a police officers and failing to get out of a park after curfew in July. She is also facing a city charge after the city accused her of ignoring a police officer who was trying to pull her over in August and instead proceeding to deliver shields and supplies to protesters.

Baumgartner said both Hunsaker and Harshman declined an interview with FOX31.

“The Denver Police Department is entrenched and they’re obstinate, and they’re not willing to give one inch to the citizens who are expressing their first amendment rights,” said Baumgartner.

“The officers don’t go to work wanting to engage, personally, with people or to put their hands on people. That’s just not what any officer wants to do,” said Robinson.  “It’s important to note that police officers come to work every day to help their community. They get involved with this job because they want to make this community a better place, and our officers and the public safety department as a whole has seen something historic in the last six to eight months that we have never dealt with before. So, I would ask this, that our community members remember that. But also understand that we have learned from it. We will continue to take actions to improve on how we do respond to these things, but I ask for partnership from the community as well.”

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