Denver Police Department lieutenant ignored “retreat order” during Sunday clash at Civic Center, union leaders says

The president of Denver’s police union on Wednesday called on police leadership to apologize for failing to protect pro-police demonstrators who rallied in Civic Center on Sunday and were overrun by counter-protesters.

“We as police officers, we’re not able to root for one side or the other, like the Broncos and the Raiders,” Nick Rogers, president of the Denver Police Protective Association, told radio talk show host Peter Boyles on KNUS Wednesday morning.  “We don’t get to root for one side or the other. We’re not allowed to let one side win. But guess what? We did on Sunday. And for that, we were wrong. And for that, an apology should be made to… every person who was there.”

Rogers also asserted that police were ordered to withdraw from the amphitheater where the counter-protesters and pro-police demonstrators were clashing — at times violently — but that one Denver SWAT lieutenant refused to leave.

“This lieutenant said, ‘These people are going to get killed if we don’t stay,’” Rogers said on the radio show, which also featured conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, who attended the rally. “So he kept his group there. And that’s the only reason this thing didn’t get worse, because somebody broke ranks. And decided not to retreat. And they stayed so they could provide some assistance.”

Denver police spokesman Doug Schepman declined to comment on Rogers’ statements Wednesday because the “chronology of the incident” is still being reviewed. He said no officers are currently facing discipline in connection with Sunday’s events. Efforts to reach Rogers on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Rogers’ call for an apology comes as conservatives criticize Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen for how the department handled the pro-police rally, suggesting that Pazen failed to adequately protect the crowd because he had previously marched with Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

“As far as Chief Pazen apologizing, no, I think Chief Pazen should resign,” said Randy Corporon, an attorney who organized the pro-police rally. “An apology is not even close to adequate for what was allowed to happen to peace-loving, lawfully assembled supporters of the good men and women in law enforcement.”

Sunday’s dueling rallies devolved into chaos and scattered outbursts of violence when a small rally to support police was flooded by counter-protesters who aimed to shut down the event by banging pots, blowing whistles, shouting and clapping.

A few scuffles broke out between the opposed demonstrators, with two women at one point getting into a fight that was broken up by police, and several others throwing punches. Denver police made one arrest, booking longtime local protester Caryn Sodaro, 55, for assault.

Corporon said members of his group were spit on as they tried to leave and said police at times seemed to be watching the counter-protesters without intervening. A lawsuit against the police department is “extremely likely,” he said.

“They were able to get away with some things that should never be allowed to happen,” Corporon said.

During the conflict, police and Colorado state troopers attempted to form lines to separate the two groups, but were largely unsuccessful. After about an hour, nearly all of the pro-police demonstrators left the amphitheater and then police also retreated.

It was at that point, as the counter-protesters marched and shouted beside retreating Denver police officers, that at least one officer deployed pepper spray on the crowd and others used less-than-lethal weapons in an attempt to disperse the crowd and clear a path for officers to retreat.

Lillian House, with Denver’s Party for Socialism and Liberation, which organized the counter-demonstration, said Wednesday that most demonstrators did not engage in violence during Sunday’s event.

“The majority of the crowd was simply making noise and making verbal resistance to their pro-police celebration,” she said. “To act like the physical confrontations that happened were initiated primarily by us is just absurd.”

She said the conservative backlash this week against the counter-protesters and against Denver police was predictable.

“Quite clearly the people on the right came with the expectation that if we showed up, the police were going to crack down on us violently — and they didn’t get that,” she said. “I think that speaks really clearly to who is really the violent side.”

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