'96 school riot suit settled; Denver cops get diversity training

(DENVER, Colo.) -- A lawsuit that alleged police abused their power during a 1996 melee at Denver's Thomas Jefferson High School has been settled, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday.

In an emotional news conference, students, parents and attorneys Bruce Jones and Mark Silverstein announced terms of the agreement: $ 95,000 in damages, diversity training for every officer, changed protocols for crowd control and collection of data to determine whether police engage in racial profiling.

The settlement was announced just one day after the ACLU and Eagle County settled a racial profiling case for $600,000. In that case, U.S. District Judge John Kane said racial profiling could become the civil rights issue of the new millennium.

Marcus Houston was only an eighth-grader when a post-dance fistfight escalated into a police-student riot at Thomas Jefferson on May 4, 1996. But it was a young man, now a star freshman running back at the University of Colorado, who addressed the news media Wednesday.

He said that on the night of the riot at Thomas Jefferson, his parents sat him down.

'My parents shared with me this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: 'The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.''

Houston thanked his parents Wednesday for teaching him and his brothers that 'crying is not enough.' He thanked his fellow classmates and brothers. 'You stayed the course during times of challenge and controversy,' he said. He thanked his lawyers: 'You have all been the ultimate measure of a man.'

He even thanked city attorneys and the police.

Following the news conference, Police Chief Gerry Whitman and City Attorney J. Wallace Wortham Jr. issued a statement that they were 'disappointed' the ACLU had misrepresented the city's efforts to collaboratively address community issues.

'The settlement agreement reached between the city and the plaintiffs relating to the 1996 incident at Thomas Jefferson High School in no way supports the suggestion that the Denver Police Department practices or condones racial profiling,' it said.

According to newspaper accounts at the time, some 70 police officers responded to a fistfight at Thomas Jefferson following a dance attended by about 450 young people, most African-American.

So many patrol cars arrived they blocked exits from the school parking lot. Officers inside the school told students to exit; officers outside the school told students to go back in.

In the confusion that ensued, police beat and Maced students and parents, according to witnesses. There were many racial slurs.

Lovell Houston, Marcus' brother and also a CU football player, was a sophomore in 1996. He said he then realized for the first time in his life that African Americans were all 'just a white cop away from death.'

Lovell saw his friend Quentin Jones thrown on the asphalt and beaten. When Jones' father, Gene Roach, saw what was happening, he threw himself onto his son's back to absorb the blows.

Roach and Jones were arrested and jailed. Ten months later, all charges were dropped.

Plaintiffs in the suit included Brotha 2 Brotha, which sponsored the dance, and its then-executive director, Dwight Gentry; two parents, Herman Houston and Roach; and five students who have graduated from Thomas Jefferson: Quentin Jones, Paulnesia Lewis, Lovell Houston, Marcus Houston and Polica Houston.

'I wouldn't want this to happen to anybody else,' Lewis said before her voice cracked and tears fell.

'I was frightened, I was scared. I don't think anybody could know what it's like until you've walked a mile in our shoes, felt that pain day after day after day.'

(iSyndicate; The Denver Post; Nov. 16, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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