The Mena Case Revisited
Like any journalist who sticks around long enough, I've occasionally been interviewed myself. I've chatted with the greats: Peter Boyles, Joan London, even Phil Donahue, in all his pre-Oprah glory. I once had a meaningful five minutes with Katie Couric, thanks to a remote hook-up — I stared bleary-eyed into a lens in Englewood at five in the morning, while an unseen Katie whispered questions into my ear from midtown Manhattan. But that was all television.
So it was a narcissistic treat without precedent to sit in a theater at Starz Friday night and see my mug up on the big screen. Personal ego trip aside, The Holes in the Door, directed by Alan Dominguez and produced by his brother David, is a compelling, home-grown documentary about the 1999 Denver police shooting of Ismael Mena during a no-knock raid at the wrong address. It debuted Friday at the XicanIndie FilmFest and is now headed for the festival circuit.
Large chunks of the story Dominguez set out to tell emerge from interviews with local journalists, including Channel 4's Brian Maass, who broke the news that the cops hit the wrong address, and yours truly, who gets to recap many of the unsettling aspects of Denver's no-knock frenzy that were first reported in my article "Unlawful Entry."
But the real star of the film doesn't get any face time at all. The anonymous informant who Denver police officer Joseph Bini used to set up the no-knock raids is heard laying out just how random those raids really were — both in close-ups of my tape recorder, playing excerpts from a conversation with the informant that led to "An Interview From the Shadows," and don't-show-my-face interviews Dominguez conducted himself after tracking down Mr. Anonymous. His efforts to buy crack while riding a bicycle through poor neighborhoods teeming with illegal immigrants is memorialized by a bit of recurrent bike-pedaling iconography, complete with hypnotic score, reminiscent of Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line.
Eight years later, the informant still clings to his shreds of anonymity. The district attorney who presided over the no-knock raids and almost never found cause to file charges in officer-related shootings, one Bill Ritter, is now the state's governor. The special prosecutor who poked into the matter and gave the SWAT team a pass, one Dave Thomas, soon was busy clearing SWAT guys over the Columbine debacle. Bini was briefly suspended for the bad information on his search warrants but held onto his badge. His latest troubles with internal affairs, an allegation that he helped himself to an $88 carpet at the Denver Pavilions last month, surfaced too recently to be included in the film.
And Ismael Mena's name is all but forgotten. But the Dominguez brothers' emotionally charged but wholly unsentimental film might change that. —Alan Prendergast