Police shooting in Colorado stokes controversy
Colorado Springs police body camera footage released Thursday shows two officers fatally shoot De’Von Bailey in the back after confronting him over a reported armed robbery.
The cameras worn by Sgt. Alan Van’t Land and Officer Blake Evenson show Bailey, 19, and cousin Lawrence Stoker put their hands up, per police order, after the officers say they will check for weapons. The officers knew that one of the suspects they were looking for had a gun.
As Evenson approaches Bailey from behind for a pat down, Bailey pivots to the right and runs toward Adams Park with his hands near his stomach. Van’t Land screams: “Hands up! Hands up! Hands up!” And Evenson yells, “Let me see your hands!”
But Bailey keeps running without raising his hands. They chase him and fire several shots at his back. Then Bailey collapses in the street.
Three bullets struck Bailey in the back and one in his elbow, said Dr. Leon Kelly, the El Paso County coroner.
In the video, officers call for a med kit before checking for a weapon. They find a gun as they cut off Bailey’s shorts.
GOPUSA Editor’s Note: Suspect contact begins around the 8:50 mark in the video. The video shows the actual shooting so be forewarned.
Van’t Land is an 11-year veteran of the force, and Evenson has served seven years, police said. Both were assigned to the department’s Sand Creek substation at the time of the shooting.
But police declined to identify a third officer who also wore a body camera, and they wouldn’t say why footage from that camera wasn’t released. Police Lt. Jim Sokolik directed questions to the county Sheriff’s Office, which did not respond to Gazette queries.
The Bailey family’s attorneys said the video did not show the 19-year-old presenting an imminent threat to the officers.
“Instead, it is clear that he was merely trying to get away from the situation,” the lawyers wrote in a statement Thursday. “Even if the officers had legitimate concern that a suspect might escape, the law strictly specifies that it is only when the officers have evidence that a person is in imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm may that officer use deadly force — a gun — to stop a person from fleeing.”
Asked what justice would mean for the Bailey family, one of the lawyers, Danny Kay, suggested criminal charges against the officers could be appropriate.
“We want justice,” he said. “We’re hoping it’s through the criminal courts because there was no reason to shoot him in the back.”
Kay said the video proves that Bailey was trying to hold up his pants and posed no threat to anyone as “he sprinted away.”
“It defies common sense,” he added. “How can he be a threat to anyone? He’s just running away.”
Former Los Angeles police Lt. Adam Bercovici, however, said the video shows that Bailey did pose an immediate threat.
“He was definitely reaching for his waistband while he was running,” Bercovici said. “And while it might not be something that people are happy with based on the totality of the circumstance, the officers were legally justified to use deadly force in this case.”
Such split-second decisions are the hardest part of the job, Bercovici said.
“It probably happened in a millisecond. Your brain has to process from a stationary investigation, transition into a foot pursuit and then into confrontation. That’s a very difficult thing to do,” he said.
In the video, at least seven shots are heard before Bailey drops to the ground. Bercovici said that’s how police are trained.
“There was no overkill,” he said. “We’re trained to stop. And the minute (Bailey) went to the ground, (the officers) stopped.”
Had police let Bailey run, that might have led to more harm to the community, he said. And a TASER isn’t accurate on the run, so it might not have been effective.
“It’s a lose-lose in the sense that he runs into the park and harms somebody. Background is extremely important when determining to use deadly force, but it cannot always be the determining factor,” he said.
Children were playing in Adams Park when Bailey was shot about 6:45 p.m., witnesses said.
Bercovici commended the officers’ sensitivity and professionalism throughout the encounter. As they cut Bailey’s pants from his body, Evenson is heard saying: “Stay with me, brother.”
John Burton, a 40-year lawyer and former board president of the National Police Accountability Project, agreed with the family’s lawyers that Bailey was not posing a direct threat to the officers, but he said it was a tough call.
“I think (Bailey) could be criticized for the decision he made. But I think officers could be criticized for pulling the trigger when he wasn’t posing an immediate threat,” Burton said. “But I highly value life, and I don’t think they should have pulled the trigger.”
Burton said he doesn’t think officers expected Bailey to run, but they could have initially ordered Bailey and his cousin to their knees or to lie on the ground. Instead, their approach to the robbery suspects was “very casual,” he said.
“They knew they were contacting these guys because they might have just done an armed robbery. There was a little bit of cowboy arrogance in their approach. I think what they should have done is try to establish a perimeter so they can’t get away, and use a high-risk felony stop,” the lawyer said.
Whether better tactics might have made a difference, Burton couldn’t say.
Sokolik said the Police Department will review its policies and procedures in the shooting after the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office rules on whether the shooting was justified. He declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation by the Sheriff’s Office.
That investigation is complete, however, the Sheriff’s Office reported Thursday afternoon, and the results were being presented to the DA’s Office.
At least two dozen people gathered Thursday evening at a visitation for Bailey at Angelus Chapel Funeral Directors & Crematory, 1104 S. South Circle Drive. Family and friends expressed shock and sadness over the footage but declined to comment on the record.
A private funeral for Bailey will start at 11 a.m. Friday at Relevant Word Ministries, 1040 S. Institute St.
The body-cam footage, released 13 days after the fatal shooting, comes earlier than release of such footage in the past. In five instances in which city police used deadly force over the past 18 months, body cam footage was released with the DA’s ruling but no earlier than 2 1/2 months after the incident.
Nationwide, police have more promptly released video evidence and the names of the officers involved. Such was the case earlier this month when an officer in a Dallas suburb killed a woman lying in the grass while he tried to shoot a dog that was charging at him. Authorities released footage from that shooting less than 24 hours after it happened.
The Gazette’s Liz Henderson, Lance Benzel, Ellie Mulder and Jakob Rodgers contributed to this report.
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