This screenshot from a body cam video shows the moment in the early morning of July 17, 2022, in downtown Denver that 21-year-old Jordan Waddy tosses his gun — seen just above the word “Hall” — to the ground. The Denver police officer aiming at Waddy had not yet fired his weapon, but he would. (Screenshot)
A few days after Denver police officers recklessly injured six innocent bystanders when they fired on a suspect in a crowded downtown area, police Cmdr. Matt Clark stood before cameras and presented the official version of what happened.
The suspect “pulled out a handgun and held it in a manner that the muzzle of the gun was pointed in the direction of the officers,” Clark said, adding that two of the officers feared the suspect was about to shoot them, so they fired at the suspect. A third officer saw that the suspect “was pointing that firearm at the officers” and also fired at the suspect, who was hit six times.
It’s chilling to watch that press conference now, because we have come to learn that Clark’s account was false.
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The suspect, 21-year-old Jordan Waddy, did have a gun, but he never pointed it at the cops. Since the Aug. 16 release of body cam video, we can all see what actually happened, and it demonstrates that the police framed their initial story in a way they hoped would shield them from accountability.
It might be foolish to expect the Denver police to hold themselves to account. What about the district attorney?
Beth McCann, Denver’s lead prosecutor, punted the case to a grand jury. Because the stark video evidence indicates that officers fired their weapons without proper justification in a manner likely to put members of the public at grave risk, it looks like McCann, when it comes to cops, wants to avoid doing her job. As former Boulder DA Stan Garnett told The Gazette when asked about the Waddy case, “Sometimes, DAs appear to use the grand jury as a deflection from a highly controversial case.”
At about 1:30 a.m. on July 17, police responded to a reported altercation in the nightlife-intense area around Larimer and 20th streets. They homed in on Waddy, who walked away from the officers down the sidewalk. Officers were on the street tracking Waddy, and when they caught up with him he put his hands up and backed away in the other direction.
As Waddy faced one of the officers about 10 feet away, he pulled a gun from his pocket, tossed it to the ground and put his hands up. Then the officer shot him. Two other officers also fired at him. It all happened very quickly, but Waddy didn’t raise his weapon or point it toward officers, he never assumed an aggressive posture, and, in full view of police, he had disarmed himself by the time officers gunned him down.
The cost could be severe erosion of public trust.
An arrest warrant affidavit said Waddy was “armed with a firearm and pointed the firearm in (officers’) direction.” Affidavits are completed under oath, but this is so misleading as to amount to a lie.
Several people besides Waddy were seriously injured. Bystander Bailey Alexander, 24, had bullet wounds in her arm and shoulder. A bullet shattered a bone in the arm of 26-year-old Yekalo Weldehiwet.
“Now, when we have the truth, at least have the decency to come forward and say, ‘Yes, we messed up. We need more training, we take full responsibility. We need to reconsider our whole program and take accountability and learn from it,” Weldehiwet said about Denver police, according to The Denver Post.
Siddhartha Rathod, an attorney representing Weldehiwet and two other victims, told the Post, referring to the initial police account of the shooting, “The omissions are as bad as straight-up lies.”
Two days after last month’s misleading police press conference, McCann announced she had charged Waddy with three counts of possession of a weapon by a previous offender and one count of third degree assault. She apparently didn’t need a grand jury to arrive at those charges. But she proved unwilling to charge officers.
Adding to the appearance that McCann is opting out of holding cops accountable is the infrequency of grand juries in Colorado. A Denver grand jury was asked to investigate police shootings only two other times in the last 30 years, in 1992 and 2004. The cost could be severe erosion of public trust.
Grand juries are part of the English common law tradition and originally were thought to offer defendants protection against corruption and false charges, but today they are an anachronism abolished by virtually every country except the United States and Liberia. Grand jury proceedings are conducted in secret, and the prosecutor wields tremendous, one-sided influence in their decisions. Grand juries typically return an indictment — except when the suspect is a police officer.
An investigation by the Houston Chronicle found that grand juries in Harris County returned indictments in the vast majority of cases they considered yet rarely indicted officers in police shooting cases. An Ohio grand jury declined to indict the cop who shot and killed the child Tamir Rice. Grand juries failed to indict police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York. Grand juries too often are the tool by which law enforcement authorities escape accountability.
A mass shooting is commonly defined as one in which at least four people are shot. When police officers perpetrate a mass shooting, their department is at risk of being viewed as a threat to public safety. Swift and certain accountability is the only way to avoid such a dangerous result.
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