BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone. Visuals of excruciating events rally the convictions of the public because they serve as rebuttals to counter narratives, as legal evidence and as proof of what is cruelest or sickest in our species. They ignite cries for accountability, justice and change. We spoke to one family who was solidly behind the dissemination of the video of a brother's murder in a Denver jail, even though a dozen years after the fact, discussing his case still ignites intense rage and pain. Time hasn't healed that.
NEWS REPORT And happening tonight. A vote on the settlement for Marvin Booker's family. Denver City Council taking up how to settle this excessive force case.
NEWS REPORT Booker died in 2010. The Booker case, like so many other cases involving jailhouse violence, was also caught on camera.
PROTESTERS Marvin Booker! Marvin Booker! Marvin Booker! [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Back in 2010. Spencer Booker lost his brother, Marvin, 56, and frail, a homeless street preacher, when five deputies shot him repeatedly with a taser while he was handcuffed. Put him in a sleeper hold and lay on top of him, all captured on video in a Denver jail and shared widely in the media. Spencer and his wife, Gail Booker, spoke to us this week.
GAIL BOOKER When the moment arrived to finally view the video. It was shocking. It was painful because things they never shared with us, we were now able to see it. We were told that it was an altercation on July 9th and that a deputy was injured, taken to the hospital, and Marvin is dead. That's it. But when we saw the video, we were able to see the interactions of the deputy. From the first moment she encountered Marty. You believe in the legal system. You've always tried to live a good life – a legal life. And then you're just kicked in the face with what the legal system is capable of doing to your loved one and trying to cover it up.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The video was later shared all over the local and national media. You wanted it to be seen, and yet it must have been excruciating.
GAIL BOOKER It was excruciating because we thought as family members, we would be the first outside of the legal system to see it, only to find out they had talked to the ministerial organization of the city, telling them what they see – they don't see. Reporters were there to see it. It was like, okay, we've shown it to everybody to try to convince them what's on this video is not on this video.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You're saying that they were pre-interpreting the video in order to muddy the waters for the people who would later see it?
GAIL BOOKER That's exactly what I'm saying. To convince us that what we see is really not what we are saying, and how to interpret what we are seeing. So when you get this video, we'll have more power to try to cover this situation up.
SPENCER BOOKER Mitch Morrissey, the D.A., came out as a defense attorney and not the district attorney. He decided to defend as if it was a self-defense. But of course, that morning we saw it in living color, the last hours of his life, the last minutes of him fighting 5 deputy sheriffs who put him in a choke hold, laid him from face down, handcuffed them, put their body weight on him. We're talking about my brother, 4 feet 9, 115 pounds, these big officers laying on top of him and he could not breathe literally. And then they turned around and went and got a taser and tased him to his death. Yes, that's what we saw and that's what we wanted the world to see. And that's where the consideration was. Show us the tape, then. If he was so big and bad, show us the tape if he was able to handle you all behind four quadrants of a jail.
GAIL BOOKER And I want to make it clear, Marvin Booker never fought five deputy sheriffs. It was not a fight, period. The video does not show a fight. In the published ruling of this video by three competent judges on page 14 it specifically say that the video and summary shows Mr. Booker did not resist during the vast majority of the encounter. So that was no fight and that's what we were trying to prove all the time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So it was about the truth, but it was also about justice. Do you feel like you got some or he got some?
GAIL BOOKER Not all of it. I don't feel like justice still has been finalized in my spirit.
BROOKE GLADSTONE After the trial, what was the judgment?
GAIL BOOKER Of course, it was unanimously by the jury that Mr. Marvin Lewis Booker was killed by five Denver sheriffs. They were not granted qualified immunity.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Yeah.
GAIL BOOKER It was a clear cut case of, he was killed, no doubt about. Problem there is there still a missing taser that was used that night inside of the jail and no one want to know where it is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE What's the significance of that?
GAIL BOOKER It will tell you exactly the corruption of the officials when they are investigating cases, how they cover up evidence. One of the most important pieces of any murder case: the weapon. Years later, after the case was finalized, it was finalized in the public's eye, but not in the family's eye. So daily, I would still read, still look at evidence. And I found something, took it back to the D.A., she opened the case back up. She got it to the grand jury, and they sealed the ruling.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Mm hmm.
GAIL BOOKER Which is the same thing they tried to do when you read the published ruling. They tried to seal that, too, but the judge just would not allow it. It's more about closure. It was the same thing that goes on every day, which is causing a lot of pain throughout this country. Are people affected by the loss of loved ones? With all the – give the family everything they need for closure. They already didn't have qualified immunity. Why did you seal the results of the grand jury?
SPENCER BOOKER It was very shocking to the conscience to see how they covered it up and act as if it was Marvin's fault. When overwhelmingly our lawyers, attorney Killmer and Mari Newman was able to peel back all of the evidence of really a criminal investigation. They were criminals that killed my brother. They they ambushed him. A man that is behind bars only for detention, ready to bond himself out in less than 4-5 hours. Ready to go on with his life, and they snipped his life from him. It was criminal. However, we could not prove it in the criminal case because the bar is higher. So we proved it in a civil case. In the civil trial, all of the evidence was brought out, even the Taser, the missing taser, because they could not get how many shots that they used on my brother, perhaps more than the book requires. So we get an overwhelming judgment, public outcry that they killed my brother. But they walked out of the same door we walked out of all five of them: guilty. Guilty, guilty. Held liable for my brother's death. But they walked out of the same federal courtroom and went back to work the next day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And they're still working? They didn't open a criminal case?
SPENCER BOOKER No. And that's the open wound right there. The open wound is that five people, five sheriffs killed my brother and they have not been criminally charged. We proved they tampered with the evidence. We showed it to the second D.A. Gail proved that this Sergeant Gomez misplaced that taser on purpose.
GAIL BOOKER By showing the video of her actions. This is why visual is important. It was the video that was showing her actions on other cameras while he was in the cell with no medical assistance. Instead of her trying to get medical help for him. She was –
SPENCER BOOKER –hiding the taser
GAIL BOOKER Which can be seen on video.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And that particular deputy had been implicated in a similar case prior, right?
GAIL BOOKER That's one of them: Faun Gomez. Yes. She was the one who really had the zero tolerance contact with Marvin. When he got up, he had to sit in there all all day because they arrested him in the afternoon, took him to another facility, then moved him over to the jail. Well, he's just sitting there sleeping all night, all day. No actions with no one. And when it was time for him to come to the desk, you can see where he left his shoes, where he was sitting. He had on socks, it was a slippery floor. So she gave him the option. You can either sit down. Well, let me check you in or you can go to a cell. He said I'll go to a cell. He turned around to go back to get the shoes while she was leading to the cell. She went behind him. The video shows that once he was going down the steps, he nearly fell while she was reaching for him. And he took his jacket and jerked away from her because he nearly fell. Well, four more deputies come out of nowhere and attack him just for that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE I saw the video
GAIL BOOKER That's the purpose for the video to be able to interpret what really happened.
BROOKE GLADSTONE In 2017, the footage of his death and the story of his life was shared again in a documentary called Marvin Booker Was Murdered. What were your thoughts when you were first approached by the filmmaker? Were you into the idea?
SPENCER BOOKER Oh, yes, Wade gardner, who was the documentarian, had followed the trial from its inception, and he approached us to write a documentary on our process. And we welcomed it because we want Marvin story to be told. We need to shine a light on the corruption behind some of our police officers and their higher ranking officials who literally will cover up a murder. And the documentary really shares the ins and outs of even their legal team. Mr. Rice.
BROOKE GLADSTONE That's Thomas Rice, the attorney who was representing Denver.
SPENCER BOOKER He just chalked it off as another day we lost. But none of my clients have gone to jail. They killed the man, but none of them are going to prison. And I mean, that was my brother, my children's uncle, my mother's birthday baby, who died at their hands. And they have not been held accountable. The five of them have not been held accountable. Gomez, Grimes, Sharpe. Robinette nor Rodriguez have been held accountable. They still have blood on their hands.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The documentary came out in 2017. It didn't have an impact at all.
GAIL BOOKER Not of making changes.
SPENCER BOOKER Not of making changes.
GAIL BOOKER And also the video went back at why is it so important? Because the documentary footage of the interviews shows remember what I said that night? We were told the deputy was injured. The documentary shows she was not injured. The video helped us understand all the lies that were told. It was the videos. And I go back to someone like Emmett Till's mother, Mamie Mobley, who said, I want the world to see what they did to my son. If you've never been affected by someone literally killing your loved one, a senseless murder, you don't understand the pain. You want the world to see the truth of what happened, how bad it is. At the emotions that you live with for life. This is just not a quick fix. Oh, we give them a couple of dollars and send them away and everything should be okay. No, it doesn't happen that way. It's a life time infliction on families. That the world need to see, visuallizing the faces of people, babies, loved one, Marvin. All of this. You see what happened.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So after the many mass shootings in the last month alone, what do you say to the families who are thinking about sharing graphic images of their loved ones, of their children.
GAIL BOOKER I don't consider them graphic images. I consider them as images of the person they love so deeply. And if that's what helped them be able to maintain a daily life in these moments right now, I think they deserve whatever they need to survive.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Reports of the funerals of the victims of Uvalde have started to come out. And one headline read, ten year old Uvalde, victim dressed in tiara at Open Casket wake. Gail, you mentioned seeing the open caskets of some of the children who were killed in that shooting and the impact that it had on you.
GAIL BOOKER My concern is the parents. The families. That's my only concern. And how do we move forward with the legal issues of gun control? That's it. See we're missing the parents are trying to continue to live. So I cannot tell them what they need. I'm supportive of whatever they do.
SPENCER BOOKER To do the open casket is a process of sharing their anger, their frustration. Gun violence is all over America. Where I pass through here in St Louis, someone is killed every day. Someone is shot every day. We have allowed people to purchase guns at 18. And they utilize those guns for mass killings of babies. What is wrong with that picture? Citizens are begging for gun control and our political leaders are not.
BROOKE GLADSTONE All right. You guys have been really generous. Thank you very much.
GAIL BOOKER Thank you for listening to our pain. Good therapy. Good therapy. But, you know – it doesn't go away.
SPENCER BOOKER No, no, it's okay. We want the world to know that this is a painful journey and that a change must come of how we deal with all these killings of unarmed people. Every time we discuss it is like pouring salt on an open wound that just happened yesterday. So keep us in your prayers as we still wrestle for solutions to get this behind us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Spencer and Gail Booker lost Marvin Booker in 2010. Spencer is a pastor in St. Louis. Coming up, school shootings account for a tiny percentage of annual gun deaths, but they occupy the vast majority of the headlines. This is On the Media.