Fritz Jünker moved to downtown Portland, Oregon, from his native Iowa in 2006, seeking better scenery and adventure .
Jünker considers 2010 to be “peak Portland,” when the city was “my favorite site on Planet Earth.” But that started to change the next year with the Occupy protests, he said, and things “went really south” when the pandemic began.
City leaders blame COVID and protests following the death of George Floyd, Jünker said, but downtown Portland really suffered from “bad policy, bad ideas and a leadership vacuum.”
He and his wife decided they needed to leave.
Last fall, the couple moved to Denver. And on June 21, while taking photos of tents set up outside his employer’s building in the Ballpark neighborhood, Jünker said he was confronted by a man claiming the 2100 block of Larimer was “his street.”
The man’s dog attacked him, biting his leg behind the knee and sending Jünker to the hospital.
“This is precisely what I thought I left behind in Portland,” Jünker said in an interview this week. “So I guess there was some miscalculation on my part.”
Upon deciding to leave Portland, Jünker and his wife did a broad search for their next home.
They considered Salt Lake City and San Diego. They stayed in a Honolulu Airbnb for a month. They took multiple trips to southern Spain, and went to Chile, where Jünker had previously spent time.
They generally wanted to be close to mountains, and to have a “walkable, fun urban core that could replace what we lost in Portland,” Jünker said. The couple had never been to Denver before last fall, when they made an impromptu trip here.
“It was only a fluke that we came to Denver for a weekend during an overland trip to western Colorado,” Jünker said.
They stayed in LoDo, walked to Larimer Square and decided the search was over.
“We were living here two weeks later,” Jünker said.
Downtown Denver is still recovering from the pandemic, and local concerns about encampments and crime have risen. But Jünker said compared to Portland, the place seemed wonderful to him last fall.
“It really comes down to a matter of perspective,” he said.
He and his wife leased a condo across the street from Coors Field. But it wasn’t all perfect. Jünker, 47, said he fell into the “deepest depression” of his life this spring. His wife was in pain because a planned surgery had been delayed by the move, and he didn’t really have a career here. In Portland, Jünker said, “I was a design-build remodeling contractor working for penthouse owners in the downtown core.” The local newspaper called him a “daring designer” when he listed his own condo for sale at $1.45 million.
“I didn’t realize how much of my personality was tied to the business I built and my spirit as an entrepreneur,” Jünker said.
In March, Jünker said, he cold-called Kenneth Monfort, who leads Denver-based Monfort Cos. and whose father and uncle own the Colorado Rockies. Jünker appreciated what Monfort was doing in the neighborhood, much of it in the 1900 block of Market Street, where Monfort has opened Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row and has other concepts in the works.
In June, Jünker started working for Monfort Cos. as vice president of community and government affairs.
“Fritz has spent his career as a community organizer, in different capacities, and was a strategic hire, allowing us to focus on overcoming challenges we’re seeing, and bring together business and community leaders to amplify our impact and collaborate on solutions,” Kenneth Monfort told BusinessDen.
It was noon on Wednesday of Jünker’s second week on the job when he walked to 2100 Larimer St., a two-story vacant building that Monfort Cos. co-owns with Denver-based Magnetic Capital. A dozen or so tents had popped up on the periphery of the property overnight, and Jünker took a handful of photos and was “working up the 311 report” to ensure the city was aware.
“It’s part of life, particularly in Ballpark,” he said.
Jünker said he was standing on the sidewalk along Larimer when two men approached. One was black with bloodshot eyes, he said, and one was white and had a pit bull on a leash. He didn’t recall seeing the men in the tents he photographed, and suspected they may have come from across the street, where there were more tents.
The dog attack
Later that evening, after the attack, Jünker emailed 1,500 words to Denver police and animal control, recounting what happened.
“The animal owner was very vocal, and unhappy that I was photographing the building and tents/occupants, and had an aggressive tone,” he wrote.
Jünker responded that he represented the property owner and was within his rights to take photos. He told BusinessDen he specifically tried to remain calm and not appear aggressive, particularly since he’s 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds with a bald head.
One phrase Jünker said the man used sticks most in his mind. “Get off my street,” he said the man told him.
“I was attempting to de-escalate the situation, when the dog suddenly turned and bit the African American man, at which point that man became very afraid and moved about 10 ft away. The dog was clearly picking up on the aggressive energy of the situation,” Jünker wrote to police later that day.
The dog owner hardly noticed the bite, said Jünker, who realized he needed to be careful. He thought of what his wife had learned from sessions with Cesar Millan, a celebrity dog trainer known as the “Dog Whisperer.” He needed to maintain eye contact with the canine and show he was the pack leader, he told himself.
The men kept talking.
“I told the owner that he ‘had an aggressive dog and needed to step away from me’ … I could see in his eyes the enjoyment of ‘power’ that having a dog of that breed gave him, in that moment,” Jünker wrote to police. “I stood my ground, and remained calm.”
Next thing Jünker knew, however, the dog was behind him and biting the back of his knee and leg. The owner didn’t do anything, Jünker said, so he had to pry the dog’s mouth open with his hands.
The owner suddenly looked afraid, and he walked away, Jünker said. Adrenaline kept Jünker going while he waited for authorities to arrive — he and onlookers had called 911. The pain kicked in bad at the hospital, where his wounds were cleaned and stitched up. A physician assistant filled out a “serious bodily harm” report, which Jünker believed would help lead to a felony-level charge.
A warrant was issued for Miguel D. Sardinas, 26, on July 21, records show. The day before, Sardinas’ probation officer had identified him as the man pictured in a photo released by police in connection with the incident, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
He has previously pleaded guilty to felony assault and menacing and misdemeanor animal cruelty in connection with neglect and mistreatment, online arrest records show. The probation officer noted a court order prohibited Sardinas from possessing an animal, according to the latest arrest affidavit.
Sardinas was booked into Denver County Jail on Sept. 20. Jünker said he was initially happy to hear of the arrest.
“But then immediately that turned into frustration at the very minor charge the Denver District Attorney’s Office felt they could prosecute,” he said.
Sardinas is charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. He was released after posting a $200 bond. Court records don’t show he has an attorney representing him.
Jünker said he was told by a victim’s advocate with the DA’s office that, to succeed on a more serious charge, prosecutors would “require proof that the dog owner verbally commanded the animal to attack.” A spokesman for the DA’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
More than three months after the fact, Jünker said that he is “literally scarred for life.” His knee is weak and “aches all the time.” He doesn’t limp, but “it feels unstable when I walk.”
“I thought it would be further healed by now,” he said.
Jünker said reporters approached him after the attack, but he decided not to speak publicly. He changed his mind recently given the charge, and because he has a message he believes the leaders of Denver and surrounding municipalities need to hear.
What stands out to him about the attack, Jünker said, was “just how arrogant, emboldened and uninhibited the owner was at threatening another individual with what I could consider a deadly weapon.”
Jünker said the dog was euthanized.
“I don’t have a problem with pit bulls,” he said. “I have a problem with recidivist criminals who are operating in an environment in Denver where they feel emboldened to do whatever they want.”
Jünker said he’s concerned that Denver residents are “becoming desensitized to regular occurrences of crime and violence.”
“And I remember that feeling from Portland,” he said.
Jünker said he feels the situation has gotten worse in the year he’s been living downtown. He sees his role as “providing intel” about what could happen if something doesn’t change.
“I’m here to help and unfortunately I have a crystal ball of what is to come if we’re not very careful about how we manage this,” he said. “I know how this movie ends.
“There’s a lot of talk about trauma in our communities these days. But not a lot of talk about the trauma of residents and business owners that are trying to operate in these cities that are falling apart before our eyes. And that trauma is substantial and I see it every single day in LoDo and in Ballpark.”
Jünker is voicing his concerns less than three months into the administration of Mayor Mike Johnston. Since assuming office in July, Johnston has made homelessness a top priority, pledging to house 1,000 people in hotels or pallet shelters by the end of the year.
Jünker said he tries to keep his warnings apolitical, and believes that Denver can get it right.
“I’m more optimistic than most Denverites because I see the pragmatism here. This is not the West Coast … If we can get moderates of all political stripes to forget their differences for a hot minute and come together to work on these things, we absolutely have an opportunity to be successful here,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Jünker and his wife own their Denver condo. They lease the unit.