One person has died and another man is in custody after a shooting during dueling protests Saturday in downtown Denver, according to police.
9News reported that one of their employees and a contractor for the television station have been taken into custody, and that the station has “not been in contact with either and does not know where either currently is.”
Police initially said two people were taken into custody but later said one of them was not involved in the incident.
The incident occurred after a man participating in what was billed a “Patriot Rally” sprayed mace at another man. That man then shot the other individual with a handgun near the courtyard outside the Denver Art Museum, according to a Denver Post journalist who witnessed the incident.
In a news conference after the incident, division Chief Joe Montoya, said police could not confirm the shooter’s or the victim’s affiliations, but said the incident started as a verbal altercation. Two guns were found at the scene, he said, as well as a mace can.
When asked about the 9News report, Montoya said he could not confirm any connection, only saying that the department was still interviewing witnesses. One of those witnesses was a Denver Post photojournalist.
“We’re hopeful that as soon as possible we can get the factual information out as to what led to this — who the individuals involved were,” Montoya said. “We’re hopeful that that information will help kind of calm the waters a little bit.”
The rallies at Civic Center on Saturday came less than a month before a presidential election and amidst a global pandemic that has the nation on edge. Until the shooting, the protests mostly consisted of each group chanting and yelling at one another from across the amphitheater, which separated the two groups.
The “Patriot Rally” protesters — led by John Tiegen, an El Paso County resident — gathered in the park’s amphitheater and occasionally chanted patriotic songs and held up banners.
Juan Quinones, a member of the biker gang Sons of Silence, decided to attend the rally after seeing Tiegan’s event posted online. He arrived after police had closed off the amphitheater but stayed with other protesters.
Quinones said he wasn’t attending the event to start trouble, but he would defend himself if he was attacked. He blamed violence on the left.
“If you don’t come out and listen and talk and speak, then they win,” he said.
The opposition group — which organizers called “BLM-Antifa Soup Drive” — held up flags and signs railing against Nazis and white supremacists as they gathered in the middle of the park, several hundred feet from the barricaded-off amphitheater.
An hour in, police had fired what appeared to be pepper balls after people from the leftist group started rattling a barrier headed into the amphitheater. One protester burned a thin-blue-line flag in front of the officers.
The soup drive idea appealed to Isabel Difrancesca, who said she came out because she liked the idea to help low-income folks. She brought pasta but said she was apprehensive about what’s she seen online in anticipation of events.
Richard Johnson and Amy Thompson were walking by the amphitheater when they passed by the rally.
“America, by and large, if you look at the media, thinks that most of America is for defunding the police and is the hard liberal left and wants to riot in the street, and I personally don’t believe the numbers bear that out,” Johnson said.
Barb Galinsky of Denver said she attended the counterprotest because “nobody is judge, jury and executioner and we need to go forward and not backwards.” She said white supremacist groups represent moving backward.
Galinsky said she expected violence at the event Saturday “because that’s what they want.”
James Rotten was manning the table of books about communism at the rally and the soup drive as a response to the original rally planned. He led chants such as, “No cops, no KKK, no fascist USA.”
“We think every far-right rally like this wants to be a dangerous race riot,” he said.
In anticipation of the heightened tensions, Denver police said the department “respects the right to peacefully assemble. Those who participate in protests, demonstrations, marches, or other gatherings, as protected by the First Amendment, are reminded to do so in a lawful manner. Individuals who choose to act outside of local, state and federal law, will be subject to citation or arrest.”
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