Denver must defend itself in Jimma Reat family suit over botched-911-call death, judge rules
In September 2012, the family of Jimma Reat, who was killed after a 911 operator told his companions and him to return to an area near where they'd just escaped a racially motivated attack, sued the City of Denver. A subsequent ruling allowed a potential federal civil rights trial focusing on the operator to move forward. But now, Magistrate Judge Michael Hegarty has once again made Denver a defendant, after new evidence surfaced about a troubling incident that preceded Reat's death -- one that led to no significant discipline of the operator. Details and more below.
Photos and more below.
Early on April 1, 2012, as we've reported, Reat and two of his brothers, Changkuoth Pal and Ran Pal, as well as Joseph Kolong, were in a vehicle near the intersection of 10th and Sheridan when a Jeep Cherokee pulled up alongside their car. The Jeep's male occupants began "harassing and attempting to injure" the four young men, according to the lawsuit, which we've also included below.
The men in the Jeep are said to have called Reat and friends "niggers" while throwing beer bottles and what's described as "bottle rockets" at them. The back window of Reat's car was shattered in the altercation, showering the occupants with broken glass. In addition, one of the Jeep's occupants brandished a handgun.
At that point, the suit's narrative continues, Ran Pal phoned 911 to report the crime and get emergency police and medical assistance. The call was answered by Juan Jesus Rodriguez, who was subsequently fired as a Denver emergency operator. During the conversation, the victims were able to elude the men in the Jeep and find relative safety at an apartment building's parking lot in Wheat Ridge, approximately seven and a half blocks west of Denver's city limits -- and Ran Pal is said to have told the operator that he was too unsettled by the occurrence to feel comfortable driving.
Nonetheless, Rodriguez told them they needed to drive back to Denver in order to rendezvous with DPD officers, and though wary, they eventually acquiesced. But the complaint maintains that the operator didn't do anything to secure police dispatch until about one minute after the shooting, nor did he create an incident report. Moreover, the suit says, he told the victims that once they had moved their car to a suitable spot, they should make themselves prominent to officers by turning on their hazard lights and leaving them flashing.
Another photo of Jimma Reat.
Rodriguez was still on the phone with Ran Pal when the car came to a stop in the vicinity of West 29th and Sheridan -- at which point the Jeep Cherokee rematerialized and its occupants opened fire. Jimma Reat died at the scene in Ran Pal's arms, having been shot in the back.
While these facts are not in dispute. Magistrate Judge Hegarty, the first jurist to hear the case, determined that the events weren't sufficiently "shocking to the conscience" to meet the requirements of the "state-created danger" test. For that reason, Hegarty limited the complaint to "willful, wanton, reckless state-law claims only," as opposed to federal ones. However, United States District Court Judge Robert Blackburn disagreed, ruling that the events of the case met the standard for a federal complaint when it came to Rodriguez.
Was the city also potentially liable?
Continue for more about the latest development in the Jimma Reat lawsuit, including additional photos and more.