Denver's public safety agency admitted Friday a law enforcement officer deployed pepper spray on protesters two years ago but claimed a video of the incident does not show Terrance Roberts, who sued the city this week alleging it violated his rights and its officers used excessive force during the rally.
"The Denver Police Department Internal Affairs Bureau received a complaint regarding an alleged inappropriate use of force against Mr. Roberts," a department spokesperson said. "The IAB reviewed available video based upon the date, location and time provided. Mr. Roberts is not seen in the video when the officer deploys pepper spray."
Roberts, an anti-gang activist who is running for mayor, is suing the city, accusing Denver of violating his First Amendment rights and using excessive force during a protest following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. In addition to the City and County of Denver, the lawsuit named as defendants Police Chief Paul Pazen and several officers that Roberts accused of pepper-spraying him on July 19, 2020.
That day, his lawsuit said, Roberts led a counter-protest to a "pro-police" rally in downtown Denver. After speaking at the state Capitol, Roberts led a march across Civic Center park and walked past a group of officers when they reached the Greek Amphitheater.
At that point, an unnamed Denver officer "approached Mr. Roberts and sprayed him directly in the face with OC spray," according to the suit.
"When Mr. Roberts was baselessly attacked, he was simply leading the crowd in a peaceful protest," the lawsuit said. "There was absolutely no basis to spray Mr. Roberts directly in the face with OC spray or to inflict any force on him whatsoever."
Attorney Mari Newman, who represents Roberts, said Denver’s statement is "inconsistent with the response it provided to our request for videos under the open records laws, which was that 'no recordings of the referenced incident were located.'"
"We requested that Denver then provide all of the video it reviewed in coming to this conclusion, paid its invoice for $363, but have yet to receive any video," Newman said.
Newman also told The Denver Gazette that she has a video showing Roberts immediately after he was pepper sprayed.
"It's very clear that he’s suffering from the consequences of having been pepper sprayed in the face," Newman said, adding numerous eyewitnesses observed him getting pepper sprayed.
Roberts also told The Denver Gazette there were "witnesses to what happened to me, before and after the incident."
"I have never made a false claim or lawsuit, and I never will, I don't need to do that," he said. "This goes to show there is obviously missing or withheld body camera footage, especially since my attorney asked for these things in an open records attempt, and they said none of this footage exist until media reports were released about the lawsuit."
He added: "Denver Police are too used to people operating in a untruthful, political fashion. These things need to change. I have no reason to lie about being abused, or to cheat the city I love and was assaulted, jailed, and slandered defending. The very same reasons why I filed this lawsuit are the very same reasons why I'm running for office."
The lawsuit alleged the city violated Terrance's right to freedom of speech and assembly, that police retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights, that officers used excessive force on him and that they violated his due process rights.
The lawsuit also argued that the police's use of "chemical munitions," pepper balls and other methods to target protesters shows the city failed to adequately train its officers.
Roberts earlier told The Denver Gazette he's offering his city residents his "unconventional" candidacy as an alternative to "seasoned politicians," who he accused of failing to confront and resolve Denver's most pressing problems.
Roberts, who is the subject of Julian Rubinstein’s book “The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood,” grew up in northeast Denver as a member of the Bloods for several years. He went from gang member to anti-gang activist, but later faced charges of attempted murder and possession of a weapon by a previous offender.
He is running for mayor at a time when the city grapples with major challenges, including soaring crime, spiking inflation and homelessness, fueled in part by the lack of affordable housing.