Rollin Oliver: First-degree murder/extreme indifference charge in Celena Hollis murder (12)
Update by Sam Levin, 12:14 p.m. June 25: The Denver Police Department has arrested Rollen Oliver, 21, in connection to the last night's shooting of an officer at City Park.
That officer was identified at a morning press conference as Celena Hollis, who served as the president of Denver's Black Police Officers Association.
Hollis was trying to break up a fight between two groups at the Jazz in the Park concert series.
Preempting questions about whether Denver residents should be concerned about this shooting being a sign of a violent summer to come, Mayor Michael Hancock, who appeared alongside Denver Police Chief Robert White, said, "We don't believe that we are seeing evidence of another 'Summer of Violence,' but we certainly aren't going to sit back and allow it to continue to grow in that direction. We are going to continue to work very closely with all of our stakeholders and partners on the street."
Sam Levin Photo of a framed picture of Denver Police Officer Celena Hollis placed at press conference this morning.
He added, "Rest assured we will diligently continue to pursue peace on our streets and ask the community to work with the city...to get the weapons out of the hands of these young people."
Facing repeated questions about the nature of the incident, White told reporters that there are rumors that the shooting was tied to gang violence, but said the investigation is ongoing.
"It is unknown whether or not [Oliver] was a gang member," White said, explaining that a citizen had given officers a description of the suspect who was then arrested on site. "We've gotten information that it's a possibility there was tension between gangs, but again, all of that information, it's just unclear. So I want to be very hesitant to give you anything that is definitive.... Right now, we don't know that to be a fact. We've certainly heard rumors to that degree."
In response to general questions about recent gang violence in Denver, White said, "There have been shootings, and some of them have been gang-related. We have made some significant arrests as it relates to that. We have some pretty substantial clues as it relates to some of these other shootings that have occurred -- not just gang-related.... Our gang unit is very proactive and very aggressive in addressing the gang issues."
Sam Levin Police Chief Robert White, right, addresses reporters.
White said that Hollis, the slain officer, previously served in the Detroit Police Department. "She was a very pleasant...polite officer. She had a phenomenal reputation. Our department is grieving."
Hancock, speaking about his experience last night responding to the shooting and talking to those dealing with it, said, "We lost a dedicated officer, a mother.... We're all feeling the pain.... I don't know what you say to a twelve-year-old young lady who just found out she lost her mother in the line of duty. But that's the charge I had last night. That's what this community is facing. And that's what whoever pulled the trigger at Officer Hollis caused last night."
He added, "So let's lift the family up in prayer...and let's come together as a community and face this thing head-on, and let's do what we can to get the weapons off the street."
Original post by Michael Roberts, 7:44 a.m. June 25: Last night about 8 p.m., a Denver Police officer -- a single mom -- was shot in the head and killed at the Jazz in the Park concert series at City Park while trying to break up a fight. Speculation is already rife that gangs may have been involved in the slaying, but the DPD hasn't confirmed that -- just as the department has avoided using the term in other high-profile cases that have already drawn comparisons to the infamous "Summer of Violence."
According to Fox31, the officer, whose identity has not been officially released, came to Denver from Detroit in 2005 and is a member of what's described as a "prestigious police officers' association." She was shot in the head at about 8:07 p.m., and although she was rushed to the hospital in short order, she was soon declared dead.
Afterward, Denver Police Chief Robert White appeared with Mayor Michael Hancock at a late evening press conference at which they paid tribute to the fallen officer. However, at this writing, the DPD's only other communication on the topic has been the following tweet:
DPD lost one of our finest tonight. Please keep the officer & her family in your prayers. Thank you for your kind thoughts and support.— Denver Police Dept (@DenverPolice) June 25, 2012
This message actually followed one from the Arvada Police Department:
Our thoughts are with our colleagues @DenverPolice.— Arvada Police (@ArvadaPolice) June 25, 2012
The slain officer is said to have worked Jazz in the Park for seven years, presumably without incident until yesterday, when she got between "two groups."
In this case, does "groups" translate as "gangs"? In an opinion piece for CBS4, Dominic Dezzutti draws that conclusion and refers to the "summer of 1993, which was dubbed the 'Summer of Violence.'"
The "Summer of Violence" tag was always something of a misnomer. In a May 30 interview, Reverend Leon Kelly, a veteran gang activist, remembered asking then-Governor Roy Romer, "'Why are you wanting to focus on this in '93, when there were more people killed in '91 and '92 than in the 'Summer of Violence?'" And indeed, murders were down in 1993 as compared to previous years. However, the publicity generated by a number of startling killings (like a ten-month old at the Denver Zoo being hit by a stray bullet) caused the media to focus on gang violence in ways it hadn't previously.
In April, The Youth Connection's Heidi Groves warned us that gang violence was rising in Denver, pointing to incidents like the March slaying of De'Quan Walker-Smith as one of many examples. And then there was the daylight quadruple shooting in northeast Denver that caused the deaths of Justin O'Donnell and Deon Rudd. Plenty of experts believe that incident involved gangs, too, but when questioned about this connection by Westword, a DPD spokesman declined to confirm it.
Are police reps avoiding this term for fear of unleashing another press frenzy -- one capable of panicking the populace? If so, it'll be interesting to see if that's possible in what could be the most newsworthy gang slaying of the season. Here's the Fox31 report about last night's shooting.
More from our Mile High Murder archive: "Justin O'Donnell murder: Denver police justify leaving body uncovered for hours (3, 4)."