Denver Zoo Apologizes 10 Years After Black Man Died During Police Encounter

Handcuffed prisoner in jail

Photo: Getty Images

Over a decade after a Black man died during a police confrontation at Denver Zoo, zoo officials are now issuing an apology to his family, according to The Grio.

Bert Vescolani, Denver Zoo's president, publicly apologized to the mother of Alonzo Ashley on Friday (October 10), reporters say. Back in July 2011, 29-year-old Ashey was on a date at the zoo when he started suffering a heat stroke and ran to find a water fountain, his family says.

A zoo volunteer called Denver Police, who ended up tackling Ashley and even shocking him with a sun gun. A coroner's report says Ashley was handcuffed and placed face down on the ground as he continue convulsing. He stopped breathing before paramedics arrived and died from "cardiorespiratory arrest brought on by heat, dehydration, and exertion during the struggle," according to the report.

The eight Denver police officers involved in the incident were cleared in January 2012. The City of Denver also settled a lawsuit with Ashley's family in 2016.

Denver Zoo faced immense backlash over the years for refusing to acknowledge its role in the tragedy. The Black community in Denver responded with protests calling for accountability and even boycotts.

The zoo started becoming more receptive to criticism after they got new leadership. Officials did more than just issue an apology -- they revealed a memorial and dedicated water fountain and cooling station to Ashley, CBS Denver reports.

"The zoo is a special place to our community and we don’t want that ever to go away," Vescolani said. "If this gesture helps in that way, I’m happy to do it."

"This memorial is more than water, it’s so much more for us who deeply miss him," Ashley Ashley, Alonzo's sister-in-law, told reporters. "It’s a day of closure, a little bit of accountability, justice, a little bit of weight lifted off our shoulders."

Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. These additional resources are also available: 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

The National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264

The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America 1-240-485-1001

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