Maybe it was the way he died — shot three times in the back. Maybe it was his age — just 19. Maybe it was simply timing — coming well after the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Whatever the reason, the Aug. 3 fatal shooting of De’Von Bailey in the city’s Southeast sector hit a nerve. The protests heated up even before the police body camera video was released 11 days after the shooting. Viewing the video only seemed to further divide people over whether police were justified in killing Bailey, who was a suspect in an armed robbery and ran after being stopped. A gun was found on Bailey after the shooting.
Since then, Bailey supporters and others, including Gov. Jared Polis, have called for an independent investigation. The case currently rests with 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May.
But Bailey was hardly the first person in Colorado Springs to die in recent years after being shot by law enforcement. Nor was he the first to be shot in the back.
The Independent analyzed all 68 officer-involved shootings involving 70 suspects, 35 of them fatal, in El Paso and Teller counties dating to 2001, the most recent being Sept. 29 in Monument. The review was based on DA’s reports, coroner’s autopsy reports, jail logs and media accounts.
The typical suspect shot by officers is a 34-year-old white male who’s armed and is believed to have broken the law in some way. Most of those killed had drugs and/or alcohol in their system.
That profile might not surprise anyone, but some findings are startling.
For instance, Bailey was one of 11 people to be shot in the back by officers. All died.
Though 70 is a relatively small number on which to compute such ratios, black people were overrepresented compared to their portion of the population for those shot and those killed. But the actual numbers are small. Bailey was one of six black men shot by officers, three of whom died.
Another startling revelation: The number of officer-involved shootings has gone up by 90 percent in the last nine years compared to the previous decade, and the number killed has more than doubled.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder’s office says in a statement that officers are trained “to apply deadly force until the deadly threat is stopped,” and that race doesn’t enter the equation.
“The statistics show those who have been shot by law enforcement were a threat to the safety of others, regardless of their race,” the statement says.
CSPD Police Chief Vince Niski defends officers’ use of deadly force.
“You have to realize that these are reactions to actions,” Niski tells the Indy in an interview, “that they [police] were reacting very quickly, that they are split-second decisions. They just are. The suspect is the one who chose to do what he or she did, which the officers are responding to.”
It would appear the justice system agrees with Niski and Elder. Of the 68 shootings, 65 have been ruled justified — 64 by the DA’s office and one by a grand jury. Three are pending, including the Bailey shooting.
- Courtesy CSPD
- Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski
On April 22, 2011, 22-year-old James Guy, who’d been drinking and smoking marijuana, fired his gun randomly into the air at 7:45 a.m. Officers surrounded the backyard on Auburn Drive and, without giving a warning, Officer Nathan Jorstad shot him in the back. It’s the only officer-involved shooting in at least 19 years the District Attorney’s Office submitted to a grand jury.
Police told the public at that time that officers ordered Guy to stop firing a gun before Jorstad shot him in the “torso.” Jorstad told investigators he shot him in the chest and was surprised to learn he’d shot him in the back.
He also told investigators “the suspect was in an up and ready position,” which Jorstad said made him “scared shitless.”
Experts told the Indy in a July 22, 2015 story that they questioned aspects of the shooting, such as Jorstad giving no commands or warning before firing. But the grand jury returned a “no true bill,” meaning the officer was found justified in shooting Guy.
Which leads us to what “justified” means.
To arrive at that decision, grand jurors — and the DA in other cases — must find that officers reasonably believed it was necessary to defend themselves or others from what they saw as an imminent use of deadly force. Or, they believed lethal force was needed to effect an arrest or prevent the escape from custody by a person they believed had committed or had attempted to commit a felony using force or threat of force with a deadly weapon. Officers also are justified in using lethal force if a suspect is attempting to escape using a deadly weapon or is likely to endanger human life unless apprehended without delay.
Policies of local law enforcement agencies, notably those of CSPD and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, haven’t materially changed in the last 20 years, except to incorporate new tools, such as Tasers. Both departments stress de-escalation techniques, and the sheriff’s office trains officers in “mental health first aid,” designed to enable officers to recognize and interact with people who are mentally ill.
A 1989 federal court case, Graham v. Connor, established parameters of force, which remain the yardstick today.
That decision said that law enforcement officers are often forced to make split-second judgments about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation, in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving, and that the reasonableness of the officer’s belief as to appropriate level of force must be judged from an on-scene perspective and not through the use of 20/20 hindsight, the sheriff’s office notes.
“Officers are taught to aim center-mass on the deadly threat,” the sheriff’s office says, and the threat is stopped by either gaining compliance or through “incapacitation.”
Use-of-force policies call for officers to use the amount of force needed to arrest or stop people posing a threat, starting with commands and escalating, if necessary, to discharging a firearm.
“It can be verbal. It can be hands-on,” Niski says. “It just depends on the situation that an officer is in at the time. You can escalate force as needed.... [Officers] could escalate to lethal force, depending on the subject they were in contact with. To use lethal force, an officer must feel a lethal threat to themselves or others.”
The Indy found that at least 96 officers have felt that threat since 2001. Of those, 62 worked for CSPD, the region’s largest police force serving the biggest share of the population; 21 worked for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, and the others worked for agencies in El Paso and Teller counties and the State Patrol.
Some cops work their entire careers without firing a shot at someone. Niski himself says he’s fired his weapon only a few times on duty to put down an ailing animal. But some officers see repeat action.
On Dec. 3, 2012, Officers Alan Van’t Land and Adam Wheeler pursued Robert Kresky, 23, who ran a “criminal organization” engaged in burglaries and narcotics and had ties with Mexican “large scale drug distribution,” according to a DA’s report.
Responding to shots fired at 1 a.m., the officers lost track of one vehicle that sped from the scene. But the officers chased a Jeep that reached speeds of 50 mph through residential neighborhoods and ran red lights and stop signs. The Jeep crashed when officers forced a spinout on Swope Avenue.
Kresky, the sole occupant, jumped out and ran for several blocks, shouting threats to police with his right hand in his waistband, the DA’s report says.
Cornering him in a dark parking lot, Van’t Land and Wheeler demanded he show his hands. But Kresky yelled, “Fuck you, I’ll shoot you!” Van’t Land fired, followed by Wheeler. Kresky fell, but continued to threaten police, his hand in his waistband. Officers fired again. They later found a handgun next to the abandoned Jeep blocks away.
Kresky, who was white, died four days later, and an autopsy showed he had 14 gunshot wounds.
Seven years later, on Aug. 3, Van’t Land, now a sergeant, is one of two officers who fired on De’Von Bailey. The other was Blake Evenson.
Van’t Land is among seven officers involved in two shootings apiece since 2001. The others are CSPD Officers Vijay Seenath, Jake Skifstad and Christopher Laabs, and Sgt. Ron Sheppard; Fountain Sgt. Tim Johnson, and El Paso County Deputy Bradley Bengford.
Those seven officers shot 14 people — 12 of whom were white, one of whom was black and one of whom was Hispanic. Nine were killed, four were not and one killed himself.
- City Council meeting video
- Pastor Promise Lee speaks to City Council on Sept. 10.
Skifstad and Johnson have since left their police jobs for reasons unrelated to the shootings.
Local residents allege the Bailey shooting was racially motivated. Promise Lee, a black pastor and community leader, joined others in demanding an outside investigation.
“Please hear me,” Lee implored City Council on Sept. 10. “All of us are geared up to go all 15 rounds.”
Noting he’s offered his “voice of reason” and “voice of peace” when advocating for an outside investigation, Lee warned things might turn violent if officials ignore that request.
“At some point I’m going to step aside. Then we could have a Ferguson on our hands,” he warned. “I want you to know that is the powder keg that Colorado Springs is sitting on.” It was a reference to the 2014 shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri, that unleashed riots and energized the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
- Graphic illustration by Elena Trapp
Data tend to support Lee’s claim. The Indy’s analysis found the race of the 69 people shot at by police in the region, minus a juvenile about which information isn’t available, doesn’t track with some of the area’s demographics, as cited in Census data.
• Fifty-four, or 78 percent of those shot, were white, while 83 percent of the county’s population is white.
• Seven, or 10 percent, were Hispanic, compared to a local Hispanic population of 17.5 percent.
• Six, or 9 percent, were black, while 6.9 percent of the population is black.
• Two, or 3 percent, were Asian, which matches the area’s 3 percent Asian population.
Of those who were shot, 35 were killed; two others completed suicide as police closed in. Twenty-six, or 74 percent of those killed, were white; five, or 14 percent, were Hispanic; three, or 9 percent, were black, and one, or 3 percent, was Asian.
And of the 11 shot in the back — all of whom died — seven were white, two were black, one was Hispanic and one, Asian.
Nationwide, African Americans are more than twice as likely to be killed by police than white people, according to a study published in August by researchers at Rutgers University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Michigan, based on fatal police shootings from 2013 to 2018 reported by the website Fatal Encounters.
But those findings contradict a study released in July in which Michigan State University and University of Maryland professors found that “the best way to understand police shootings isn’t racial bias of the police officer; rather, by the exposure to police officers through crime,” the MSU website states.
Joseph Cesario, MSU associate professor of psychology who co-authored the study, says that “violent crime rates are the driving force behind fatal shootings.”
“Our data show that the rate of crime by each racial group correlates with the likelihood of citizens from that racial group being shot,” Cesario says on the website. “If you live in a county that has a lot of white people committing crimes, white people are more likely to be shot. If you live in a county that has a lot of black people committing crimes, black people are more likely to be shot. It is the best predictor we have of fatal police shootings.”
Cesario tells the Indy by phone not much can be gleaned from the Pikes Peak region numbers, because they’re so small.
“It’s very hard to say with any certainty, given the small amount of people you’re talking about,” he says. He adds that the black population of 6.9 percent is “pretty close” to the 9 percent of those shot who were black.
The sheriff’s office cites data compiled by The Washington Post in noting that officer-involved shootings of black people nationwide have declined, from 258 in 2015 to 229 in 2018. It adds the office “has never trained based on a person’s race” and that those who’ve been shot were a threat to the safety of others, regardless of race.
Niski, too, downplays race in police shootings.
“From my experience as a police officer, from my knowledge about this department and its employees, when an officer has to make a quick response to somebody who is using lethal force against themselves or others, it doesn’t matter what color they are, it doesn’t matter what gender they are, it doesn’t matter what religion they are,” he says. “They are reacting to an action.”
- Pam Zubeck
- DA Dan May ruled the Manuel Zetina shooting justified in 2018.
That “action” often involves firearms: 58 of 70 people shot at by officers carried weapons of some kind; 39 were handguns. Others armed themselves with shotguns, assault weapons and a rifle.
For example, CSPD and El Paso County deputies teamed up on Oct. 22, 2016, to capture Demetrius Moore, who’d just shot and killed his wife in Security.
They closed in on Moore at Union Boulevard and Boulder Street, drawing fire from his .45 caliber handgun. Deputies Jeremy Juhl and Chris Donatell returned fire.
Moore collapsed across the car seat and appeared incapacitated, but as the CSPD tactical team crept closer, he popped up “with his arms displayed in a manner that led officers to believe he intended to fire his gun toward them,” the DA’s report says. CSPD Officer Armando Newell fired into the vehicle. Moore, who is black, died that day and had 10 gunshot wounds, including one in his back.
When an officer tried to pull over a suspicious vehicle on April 7, 2012, in the 1800 block of South Academy Boulevard, it sped away and officers came under attack from “numerous rounds from an AK-47 assault rifle,” the DA’s report says. The chase went on for several miles as a passenger continued firing. Two other officers tried to intercept the suspect vehicle but failed. Eventually, an officer “performed a tactical vehicle intervention,” causing the vehicle to crash. One of three suspects — two black and one who’s white — emerged with a broken arm. Miraculously, it was the only injury.
Similarly, about 9 p.m. on Oct. 9, 2004, the attempted use of a fake I.D. turned into a shooting spree as David Badovinac, who’s white, fled a Best Buy store on Powers Boulevard, shooting his way across the city.
Badovinac carried a .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun and had a belly belt to carry a concealed weapon, having obtained a concealed carry permit from the sheriff’s office the year before.
An officer and the suspect exchanged gunfire as the suspect attempted to carjack several cars and shot into a vehicle occupied by a teenage couple headed for a movie date. Trading gunfire with him, two officers were shot — one in the elbow and another in the thigh.
The suspect commandeered a pickup truck at gunpoint and sped away, as officers fired. With several police cruisers in pursuit, Badovinac drove through yards in the Village Seven neighborhood, crashed into parked vehicles and tried to run down two officers on foot, injuring both. More gunfire was exchanged.
Flying down Academy with officers in pursuit, he turned west onto Platte Avenue. Officer Dave Henrichsen, immediately behind him, did a “PIT” (Pursuit Intervention Technique) maneuver, causing the pickup to spin into the median, the DA’s report says.
The spin-out kicked up dirt, clouding the scene, as Henrichsen approached, gun drawn. Badovinac jumped out of the cab and “started at” the officer, who shot him in the chest, killing him. Badovinac’s gun was found inside the truck; he carried a knife in his belt. The truck had 13 bullet holes, and police had managed to shoot Badovinac in the wrist along the way.
Linked to an identity theft ring, Badovinac had carjacked a vehicle at gunpoint five days earlier.
- Pam Zubeck
- El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder holds a news conference on Feb. 6, 2018, the day after Deputy Micah Flick was killed.
Other examples of armed confrontations:
• Patrick Holland, who’s white, was suspected in an armed robbery minutes before he carjacked a vehicle at Constitution Avenue and Powers Boulevard on June 7, 2004. Officer Nathan Gabrielson shot Holland in the head at a distance of 60 feet. He survived.
• CSPD Tactical Enforcement Unit Officer Christopher Mace shot and killed Dominic Oliver on Feb. 28, 2012, after he took two women hostage at a medical office on Printers Parkway. The standoff spanned about three hours, and police brought his father and his therapist to the scene. But when officers entered to free people hiding from Oliver, he raised his gun “into a firing position towards Mace,” prompting Mace to shoot him.
Of those who were armed, 53 percent lost their lives. And four of the dozen unarmed suspects also were killed.
One was Kresky, who had been armed minutes before. The other three drove their vehicles toward officers.
Craig Bondo, for example, who’s Hispanic, left Walmart in Woodland Park on Jan. 22, 2013, after clerks suspected him of shoplifting and told him not to return. Woodland Park Police Officer Christopher Moeller followed Bondo, planning to stop him and “warn him not to return to the Walmart,” the DA’s report says.
Moeller radioed another officer to stop Bondo, which he did at 2:13 p.m. on Highway 24. After officers checked Bondo’s car tag and found the vehicle was stolen, they moved in to arrest him. When Moeller opened the car door, Bondo pulled it shut, turned the vehicle sharply “and accelerated toward Officer Moeller.” Moeller pulled his gun and fired eight times; three struck Bondo, who later died.
Several suspects wielded knives.
Carrie Montgomery called El Paso County deputies at about 4:30 p.m. on June 22, 2008. She’d been unable to make contact with her husband, from whom she was separated, or her children, who were visiting their dad at his Manitou Springs home.
Deputies Alex Garcia and Lisa Montville circled the house, finding it locked with curtains drawn. Breaking a window to gain entry, the deputies discovered 5-year-old Skyler and 21-month-old Canyon, dead on a bed with “a significant amount of blood — on the children, on the bed, and throughout the room,” the DA’s report says.
Searching the home, officers encountered their father, Scott Montgomery, who’s white, when he leapt from a closet, brandishing a “leatherman-type knife.” Despite officers’ commands to drop the weapon and put his hands up, Montgomery came “flying across the room” toward them, Montville later told investigators. Garcia fired five shots. The fatal bullet lodged in his back.
How could that be, if Montgomery hurled himself toward them?
Dr. Robert Bux, El Paso County coroner at the time, told investigators the first two shots likely struck his right arm and right hip, causing his body to twist and “present his back for the final shot,” the DA’s report says.
Bux also said “situations such as these are ‘dynamic, chaotic and very fast moving.’ ... For these reasons, it is extremely difficult to draw concrete conclusions about every minute event or sequence thereof.”
The currently serving coroner, Dr. Leon Kelly, says, “It’s been well described in the forensic literature for decades that shots in the back do not mean that aggressive action wasn’t being taken by the victim.
“The reality is,” he adds via email, “that when a weapon is pointed at someone the natural inclination is to turn away. As the weapon is drawn and visualized and ultimately fired there is plenty of time to turn.”
Moreover, Kelly adds, few gunshots will “drop” a victim immediately. “So in cases of multiple shots the victim is often turning as they are being shot,” he says. “Even shots of the heart may not drop the victim for about 10 seconds, giving lots of time to move or even run a fair distance.”
The Indy’s records review discovered that officers appear to be firing more bullets during shooting incidents. From 2001 through 2010, officers never shot a suspect 10 times or more, but since then, seven shootings have seen gunfire at that level.
Officers also shot at more people (46) and killed more people (25) since 2011 compared to the prior decade when 24 were shot and 10 killed.
Also, the number of officers engaged in shootings rose from three multi-officer shootings before 2011, compared to 20 multi-officer incidents since then.
As for number of wounds, Kelly reports it’s not always possible to ascertain how many bullets found their mark.
“One bullet may account for multiple holes and several ‘gunshot wounds,’” he says via email. That’s because one bullet might enter an arm or a leg, exit and re-enter the torso or another arm or leg.
“This happens relatively frequently with OIS [officer- involved shootings] or in cases with multiple shooters particularly with GSWs [gunshot wounds] of the hands or arms,” Kelly says.
If an autopsy cannot approximate a gunshot’s pathway, the total number of wounds could appear higher than the actual number of bullets fired, he says. So that could explain why some suspects’ bodies seem riddled with wounds.
Kelly surmises from his experience performing autopsies that a higher number of shots is likely due to more cases in which multiple officers discharge their weapons.
“My guess is that may be a result of how LE [law enforcement] responds in today’s world and that at-risk situations draw cops faster and in larger numbers than before,” he says, adding that’s “just my anecdotal experience.”
Niski says via email that dispatch normally sends at least two officers to critical incidents. If others are available, they might also respond.
“This practice has not changed recently and has been in place for years,” Niski says. “I do not think we have any analytical data that would support saying we are sending more officers to priority calls than we did in past years.”
But he acknowledged that a critical incident requiring use of force usually leads to more than one officer being directly involved.
“While there are many factors that determine how many shots are fired, the number of officers could play a part,” he says.
And, as the sheriff’s office notes, the U.S. Supreme Court stated in a 2014 ruling that “if police officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended.”
One example of multiple officers responding took place on July 23, when CSPD Sgt. Mark Keller and Officers Cole Jones and Lucas Aragon surrounded Joshua Vigil, who was armed with a handgun, in the Fountain Garden Apartments’ foyer in the 3100 block of East Fountain Boulevard.
When the shooting stopped, police had inflicted more than 20 gunshot wounds, according to the autopsy report. The DA has yet to issue a decision on whether the shooting was justified.
It’s unclear whether most people shot by officers have drugs or alcohol in their systems, because if those who survived were tested, it wasn’t consistently noted in DA reports.
But autopsy reports detected drugs and/or alcohol in 30 out of the 34 suspects killed by police since 2001. (The autopsy for the most recent shooting victim Sept. 29, is pending.) Methamphetamine was found in 16 suspects postmortem. Marijuana was found in 13, while amphetamine showed up in 10, alcohol in seven, including the two who killed themselves, cocaine in three, and opioids, three.
Methamphetamine can cause confusion, paranoia and aggression, but Niski balks at linking meth users to police shootings.
“As far as anger issues, as far as aggressiveness, as far as paranoia, people are impacted [by meth] differently,” he says. But Niski is quick to add he’s willing to correlate drug use with criminal activity and armed suspects, which, in turn, can lead to confrontations with officers.
Montgomery, of Manitou Springs, was among only four who were free of drugs or alcohol. The others were Jack Jones, shot in 2006 by a Teller County deputy after he threatened to kill his wife and pointed a shotgun at officers; Dana Ott, who spent weeks in the hospital after being shot by police in November 2015 when he leveled a rifle at officers; and Jonathan Patzel, who charged officers with a knife in April 2019.
Drugged or not, suspects who face off with police usually aren’t newcomers to crime. El Paso County jail records show that, on average, those shot by police were booked into jail 4.5 times on various charges before and after being involved in shootings. Two who weren’t killed by officers have racked up 24 arrests each, records show.
Which underscores the danger officers face.
In those 68 officer-involved shootings, about a dozen officers also suffered injuries, ranging from minor scrapes to a serious head injury. Two died.
Consider, too, that assaults on law officers in the region have grown by 158 percent, from 36 in 2011 to 93 in 2018, the most recent full year of data. Through July 31, assaults on officers stood at 77, a pace that could reach a new annual high.
Deputy Micah Flick was shot by Manuel Zetina, who was Hispanic, at about 3:45 p.m. on Feb. 5, 2018, in a shootout with officers. (Zetina was killed.) CSPD Officer Ken Jordan was gunned down during a DUI stop by Marco Lee, who’s Hispanic, about midnight on Dec. 5, 2006, at Fountain Drive and Jet Wing Circle. Lee is serving a life sentence.
Most recently, on Aug. 2, 2018, Springs Officer Cem Duzel responded to a shooting in the 1900 block of Boulder Street at 2:45 a.m. He survived a shot in the head and recently returned to his home state of New York to continue his recovery. Accused shooter Karrar Al Khammasi, who’s white, awaits a trial set for early next year.
Duzel made a video appearance at Mayor John Suthers’ State of the City address on Sept. 12, prompting this comment from Suthers: “I personally believe there is no more difficult job in America’s cities today than serving as a police officer. You have to make split-second decisions to protect your community and yourself.”
Those officers’ decisions don’t sit well with everyone. Bailey’s family and supporters accuse local law enforcement and prosecutors of bias in officers’ favor due to conflicts of interest.
For example, Undersheriff Pete Carey served as CSPD’s chief until early 2019, which they argue poses a conflict in the sheriff’s office investigation of the Bailey shooting.
Moreover, Bret Poole, who used to run a remodeling and construction business with Niski, retired from CSPD and joined the DA’s office as chief investigator in late 2018.
Niski dismisses those concerns.
“I think it’s absurd to think since Pete Carey is over at the sheriff’s office that they’re going to treat us any differently than they have in the past,” he says, also brushing aside his association with Poole.
Should the Colorado Bureau of Investigation be handed the Bailey investigation, Niski says it’s possible a former CSPD officer could work the case, because ex-CSPD officers work for the CBI.
“So to think you are going to find an agency that may not have any association with CSPD is going to be difficult,” he says.
Some years ago, prosecutors investigated officer-involved shootings and decided whether or not to charge the officer with a crime.
Since the Colorado General Assembly passed Senate Bill 219 in 2015, investigations must be handled by multiple agencies. The cases then are forwarded to the DA’s office for review and a finding.
The idea was to lend transparency and objectivity to officer-involved shootings to bolster public confidence. But a bill sponsor, Joseph Salazar, D-Thornton, says agencies that investigate themselves undermine the law. Such as in the Zetina shooting investigation. CSPD, whose officer fired on Zetina, handled the probe, with aid from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, whose officers also fired at Zetina.
Niski, Elder and Suthers, as well as the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association, say the current system is working.
Yet, the CSPD, sheriff’s office and CBI recently inked an agreement that will place in the CBI’s hands investigations of officer-involved shootings in which both the CSPD and sheriff’s office took part.
That pact has no impact on the Bailey shooting, however, and momentum for an outside look is building.
The El Paso County Democratic Party on Sept. 26 released its letter to the state party chair Morgan Carroll noting an “urgent need” for the party “to live its values” and demand justice after Bailey’s death.
“The work of the community following the tragic death of De’Von Bailey is the work of our party,” the letter says. “We must do our part as Democrats.”
The party later retracted the letter, but noted the party wanted to “articulate a fully inclusive position on a highly sensitive matter which demands honesty, integrity, and transparency.”
Protesters have made repeated appearances in the community to demand that an outside agency take a deep look at the Bailey shooting.
On Aug. 22, Gov. Polis issued a statement supporting an outside review, but didn’t say who should do it. The Bailey family’s lawyers would prefer that the CBI and Colorado Attorney General’s Office intervene.
On Sept. 10, Suthers tweeted that the FBI and Department of Justice are investigating but didn’t disclose any additional information about that.
Mark Silverstein, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, wonders if the legal standard itself should be changed, like California did earlier this year. Those new standards allow officers to use deadly force only when necessary, rather than under reasonable circumstances.
Silverstein also notes that a DA’s decision not to prosecute doesn’t necessarily mean the shooting was justified. Rather, he says, it means the DA doesn’t think he can convince a jury to convict.
“To say a DA has declined to press charges should not be viewed that a shooting is justified,” he says. “They’re not crimes, but they’re still not justified.”
He’d like to see departments impose stricter guidelines for use of deadly force than those contained in court rulings or state statutes, and back up those guidelines with internal discipline for going too far.
It’s not clear if any officers involved in the 68 shootings reviewed by the Indy drew disciplinary actions. Local departments seldom make public a suspension or dismissal of an officer.
But Niski says the CSPD, for one, believes local agencies “hold our own accountable.”
“We are not hesitant to arrest our own officers if they have violated the law. We have done it in the past,” he says.
“I think there’s a perception that there’s a thin blue line where we protect our own at all costs,” he adds. “I can tell you that thin blue line is more about we take care of our employees as our family. We don’t overlook criminal activity. We look at it [as] an embarrassment to our badge.”
Clarification: Colorado Springs Police Officer Gerald Bellows Jr. was indicted by a grand jury in mid-2018 in connection with an April 13, 2018, shooting incident that caused no injury. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was placed on one year unsupervised probation. The Indy based its analysis on District Attorney reports, which did not include the Bellows case.