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Denver Zoo Apologizes for Black Patron’s Death at the Hands of Police More Than Ten Years After Incident Took Place On Their Property, Man Receives Tribute

A Black family was finally issued an apology from a local zoo a decade after their loved one died at their establishment following a confrontation with police officers in July 2011.

On Friday, Oct. 1, the Denver Zoo President Bert Vescolani gave a public apology to Gail Waters, telling the grieving mother “we are really sorry for that” in regard to her son Alonzo Ashley’s death, which occurred ten years ago. 

Alonzo Ashley’s family received an apology from the Denver Zoo on Oct. 1, ten years after he was killed following a confrontation with police at the zoo in July 2011. (Photo: CBS Denver/YouTube screenshot)

In an apparent effort to take accountability and make amends, Vescolani presented the family with a plaque with the young man’s image on it, along with a short description of Ashley’s character and a Bible verse.The plaque will be placed on a rock next to a newly installed water fountain and cooling station built in Ashley’s honor. 

“Alonzo deserves this and for his name to live on,” Ashley’s sister-in-law Ashley M. Ashley said at the tribute. Waters declined to speak. “This memorial is so much more than water for those of us who deeply miss him.”

On July 18, 2011, Ashley was visiting the zoo with his girlfriend’s family when he reportedly started displaying strange behavior and hurried to the nearest water fountain. The 29-year-old was spotted by a zoo volunteer who called for police, who, when they arrived, tackled the man and shocked him with a stun gun. 

Ashley’s death was ultimately ruled a homicide caused by cardiorespiratory arrest initially brought on by heat, dehydration, as well as exertion that took place during the struggle between the officers and the victim.

A coroner’s report stated that Ashley was placed face down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back and his legs crossed and pressed toward his buttocks, The Associated Press reported. 

The victim’s death sparked outrage and protest amongst residents in the community. The zoo employee was blasted for failing to realize Ashley was in distress and did not pose a threat. 

Subsequently, many Black residents in the community boycotted the establishment. On the anniversary of Ashley’s death, members of the Denver Justice Project would head to the zoo and hand out water as a reminder of the tragic incident. 

Zoo officials asked protesters to leave the zoo’s plaza and eventually had them barred from the premises completely.

Eight officers were involved in Ashley’s death. None was charged or faced any disciplinary action from the Denver Police Department. Five years after Ashley’s death, his family was awarded $295,000 to settle a lawsuit they brought against the department. 

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