Denver, CO – On the afternoon of April 14th, DA Mitch Morrissey announced that the charges against 15-year old Ashanti (Shani) Mills had been dismissed. His announcement came after a 6 month struggle by Shani and her family to fight for justice in what they have described as a “nightmare” within Denver’s criminal justice system.
In October 2015, Shani, 14 years old at the time, was removed from class by then principal of Northfield High School, Avi Tropper, who informed her that she was not compliant with the school dress code. Shani was wearing an outfit that she states was exactly the same as outfits she had worn every day for months, with the addition of a bandana worn as a headband. She entered the bathroom and was followed by the principal and a security guard, Nathan Montgomery, who proceeded to unlock her bathroom stall. Shani exited the bathroom quickly and was then assaulted repeatedly by the security guard. Another employee eventually intervened.
The principal told Shani that she would be suspended for violating the dress code. She could hear the security guard calling the Denver Police Department who later arrested Shani and charged her with assault against the security guard. Two days later in court, a representative of Denver Public Schools (DPS) stated that they had conducted an investigation which found Shani to be clear of any wrongdoing and that the security guard had violated school policy. The DPS representative requested that the charges be dropped, asserting that it was a school matter and should never have involved the police or criminal charges.
The security guard was later fired and the principal resigned in lieu of being fired.
Shani and her family were surprised that instead of following the recommendation of DPS, the DA held to the initial charges and the court process extended for months while Shani was kept on house arrest. Shani’s mother stated in her open letter to Mayor Hancock:
“We were told that the case would certainly be dismissed in March. Instead, the March appearance yielded new charges: interference with an educational system and resisting arrest. In April, likely with the knowledge that school surveillance did not support the allegation of assault, that charge was dropped… Shani did not resist arrest. The police officer made no such claim at the time she was taken into custody.” – Shani’s Mother
Leading up to her trial date of April 15th, a #Fight4Shani call-in/email/twitter campaign was launched. Black Lives Matter 5280 (BLM5280), Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) and many others shared instructions on how to call/email/tweet at the DA’s office and Mayor Hancock.
— Colorado Action (@ColoradoAction) April 14, 2016
On the afternoon of April 14th, DA Mitch Morrissey announced that the charges had been dismissed by commenting from his facebook page.
In a subsequent post, however, he blames the family themselves for the delay and refers to their call-in campaign as “unfortunate” and a “social media grandstanding campaign”.
On April 14th, at 4 p.m., shortly after the announcement that the charges were dismissed, BLM5280 held a press conference in front of Mitch Morrisey’s office. Shani recounts her experiences from that day in October:
“My thoughts on this is that it’s completely ludicrous no matter what, but I will stand strong, I have stood strong no matter what through this whole thing…I started walking back in the direction of my math class and he again ran in front of me and he grabbed my right arm and pinned it behind my back. At that time I became very scared and I didn’t know what to do. It was a struggle, I will tell you that, and I do not want anyone else to have to go through what I have been through.” – Shani
Bianca Williams made a statement on behalf of BLM5280 thanking the community and addressing the dismissal as well as the DA’s choice to blame the family and to inform them of the decision over social media.
“We are ecstatic that Shani will not face trial tomorrow, will not be further punished for something she did not do, and can return to focusing on her education… We are glad that District Attorney Mitch Morrissey’s office decided to to the right thing today and drop these ridiculous charges. However we think it is despicable that DA Morrissey would state that the family just revealed new evidence, when this is untrue…That he would blame his office’s railroading of this family on them is beyond reprehensible. We think it is absolutely ridiculous that he chose to announce the dismissal of this case on social media…” – Bianca
Unicorn Riot was informed of an ongoing investigation of pending charges for both the principal Avi Tropper and security guard Nathan Montgomery that DA Mitch Morrissey’s office has not moved forward with as of today. We will keep you informed with any future developments.
Watch full video of press conference below: