FIVE DAYS. SIX DEADLY ENCOUNTERS.
Six people died in five days during the past week in officer-involved shootings across Colorado. The unconnected shootings are rare in a state that averages three police shootings a month that often aren’t fatal. The number of shootings is high, but it’s hard for law enforcement experts to draw any conclusions or see any patterns in the string of fatal officer-involved shootings that started June 30. »
Six people died in five days during the past week in police officer-involved shootings across Colorado. The unconnected shootings are rare in a state that averages three police shootings a month that often aren’t fatal.
The number of shootings is high, but it’s hard for law enforcement experts to draw any conclusions or see any patterns in the string of fatal officer-involved shootings that started June 30.
Two involved stolen vehicles. Four involved chases. In five of the incidents, early reports indicate the people who died were armed or had threatened police.
State law requires a shooting by a peace officer that results in injury or death to be investigated by multi-agency teams that include members of at least one other police department, sheriff’s office or the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Because all the recent incidents are under investigation, few details have been released.
“At the end of the day, it is hard to say this is a trend,” said Mike Violette, executive director of the Colorado State Fraternal Order of Police.
Alamosa County Sheriff Duane Oakes, president of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, said police officers are trained to respond when confronted by armed or dangerous suspects.
“When people brandish firearms at police, we are there to protect the communities and to protect people,” he said.
While the incidents must be evaluated individually, the cluster of shootings suggests that more needs to be done to assure force is used only as a last resort by law enforcement officers, said Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, executive director of the ACLU of Colorado.
Every community in the state should have independent mechanisms for police accountability, strict use-of-force policies and effective training in de-escalation techniques, he said. “We also need more robust collection of data on officer-involved shootings to better inform the conversation about community-police relations.”
The spate of shootings frustrates at least one state legislator who wonders what else can be done to reduce the number of fatal encounters between police and suspects.
Colorado has already passed laws to ban choke holds and has increased restrictions, oversight and training of law enforcement officers in the wake of local and national allegations of police abuse.
Both Denver and Aurora police are prohibited from shooting at
moving cars unless someone inside is firing at them, policies that mirror those adopted by many police departments nationwide.
An increasing number of police departments across the state now require officers to wear body cameras to hold them accountable for their actions when they interact with citizens. On Friday, the day that three of the fatal police shootings occurred, Denver police announced plans to expand body camera use to officers moonlighting at bars, sports events and other offduty jobs.
“This is what law enforcement deals with every day,” said Democratic state Sen. Rhonda Fields, who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I don’t believe anyone goes to work to have this kind of encounter, I believe they come up against life-ordeath decisions,” and must make a difficult decision in a split second, she said.
Still, she finds the high number of fatalities alarming.
“That causes me to pause to get a sense of what is going on,” she said. “What can police do to have a more peaceful outcome so that the end of a conflict we don’t find another dead person?” The fatal shootings
• June 30: Police shot and killed Stephanie Lopez, 32, and critically injured a second woman after a carjacking and high-speed chase. Lopez was pronounced dead at the scene and the other woman was hospitalized in critical condition. Early reports indicated the women fired shots at police officers, but Denver police later said they couldn’t confirm that.
• June 30: A Larimer County deputy shot Chet Knuppel in the chest as he was fleeing after crashing a stolen vehicle in a field near Colorado 392 and Larimer County Road 9. Knuppel died later at a hospital.
• June 30: Westminster police shot and killed Brett Rodriguez when he ran as they tried to arrest him. Officers were looking for a suspect wanted on warrants when they saw the man who was also wanted on warrants. Police said he ran to a car and displayed a weapon when officers approached.
• July 1: Jeremy Holmes, 19, died from multiple gunshot wounds after he was shot by police near Colorado State University when CSU and Fort Collins police officers responded to a report of a “threatening male” who was armed.
• July 4: A Federal Heights police officer shot and killed a fugitive parolee, who officers believed was armed, when he refused orders to surrender and tried to flee. Police said the man had driven to an apartment complex after threatening a woman.
• July 4: Montezuma County deputies who were dispatched to handle a domestic violence incident shot and killed a 53-year-old man. A deputy shot Tyrone Peabody after he came out of a home armed with a rifle and fired toward deputies.