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Denver Zoo Apologizes for Black Man’s Death at the Hands of Police More Than Ten Years Later

Denver, Co – It took over 10 years but the Denver Zoo where Alonzo Ashley died has finally made a public apology.

On Friday, the zoo’s CEO and President Bert Vescolani apologized to Ashley’s mother and dedicated a water fountain and cooling station to Ashley.

Vescolani presented the family with a plaque with the 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, 29-year-old Alonzo Ashley was killed during a struggle with police officers at the zoo. Ashley was at the zoo with his girlfriend and her family when he began to show signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. He sat on the ground and appeared to lose consciousness. A zoo security guard approached Ashley to check on him. According to the guard, Ashley was unresponsive at first but after a few minutes he got up, saying he was hot and wanted to be left alone. Ashley began acting erratically which caused the guard to call 911 for assistance.

When eight Denver Police officers arrived at the scene, Ashley was tased and wrestled to the ground.

According to the coroner’s report, Ashley was placed face down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back and his legs crossed and flexed and pressed toward his buttocks. He began convulsing and stopped breathing before paramedics arrived. He died at the scene.

The coroner ruled Ashley’s death a homicide and said his death was caused by cardiorespiratory arrest brought on by heat, dehydration, and exertion during the struggle.

Ashley’s death sparked outrage and protests amongst residents in the community calling for the accountability of zoo staff and volunteers who failed to realize Ashley was in distress and didn’t pose a threat. Many of Denver’s Black community boycotted the zoo.

None of the officers involved in the arrest were charged or faced disciplinary action, but the city paid Ashley’s family $295,000 in 2016 to settle a lawsuit.

For years the Denver Zoo refused to acknowledge any responsibility in the death.

This year Helen Rigmaiden, a community organizer, made yet another call to the zoo. This time, a new president was in place, and someone listened to her plea.

They decided to ask for a water fountain and cooling station in Ashley’s honor. On Friday, Rigmaiden said the zoo boycott would end.

“We declare on Oct. 1 this zoo is open,” she said. “This zoo is safe for all of us.”

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