Once again, something that started so innocuously, with the words, “Hey guys” spoken by a police officer, has left bullets in the back of a dead black teen.
Nineteen-year-old De’Von Bailey, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was shot and killed by a Colorado Springs police officer on Aug. 3. Recently released body-camera footage from that day shows that Bailey was running away from Sergeant Alan Van’t Land and officer Blake Evenson when he was shot, with what sounds like eight shots fired “with three bullets burrowing into his back and a fourth piercing his arm from a similar rear angle,” according to an autopsy report referenced by Westword.
Bailey’s death was ruled a homicide by the coroner, and that report, released on Thursday, on the day of Bailey’s wake, and on the day before his funeral, has many in the community outraged, especially because the police narrative before his shooting death was one of mischaracterization (i.e., the usual lies), as contradicted by witnesses.
In an op-ed from the Denver Post, written days after Bailey’s death, and before police released its body-cam video, the writer references footage taken by a home security system from the block where Bailey was shot and killed:
This video is incongruent with how top officials with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office — the agency investigating the shooting — described Bailey’s death in a press release sent out Sunday morning, a day after the officer-involved shooting near Adams Elementary School southeast of downtown.
This was the official story the department sent out to the public: “The Colorado Springs Police Department were dispatched to a report of a personal robbery in the 2400 block of East Fountain Blvd. Upon arrival, officers interviewed the victim who identified two suspects. Officers contacted the suspects and during the encounter, one suspect reached for a firearm. At least one officer fired a shot at the suspect.”
As the police video shows, Bailey did in fact, have a gun. However, clearly, he was running away from the scene, and police didn’t realize he had a weapon until he lay dying in the street. Westworld reports:
The body-camera video of Van’t Land and Evenson introduces some ambiguity into this analysis. It turns out that Bailey had a gun on his person at the time of the shooting — “deep within his basketball shorts,” as [his lawyer] Killmer put it. The weapon was retrieved by the officers who cut those shorts off Bailey after he hit the pavement near the scene of what was originally reported as a “personal robbery” on the 2400 block of East Fountain Boulevard in the Springs.
Furthermore, Bailey can be seen reaching for his pocket at least twice during his interactions with Van’t Land and Evenson. Early on in video captured by Van’t Land, he shifts his hand in that direction and begins trying to snake his fingers into the opening in the fabric, only to immediately move both hands away from his body and then raise them over his head after being ordered to do so. In the Evenson material, Bailey appears to be moving a hand toward the pocket again while sprinting away from the officers, only to quickly abandon the effort when it becomes clear that getting access to it is impossible.
In the end, Bailey never came close to grabbing the gun, much less brandishing it at Van’t Land and Evenson, and as Killmer pointed out, his only goal within a second or two of making the decision to run appears to have been to flee rather than to shoot at the cops or anyone else. He only made it a few steps before the first projectile tore into him.
Given this new evidence, Bailey’s family, like the writer of the above op-ed, doesn’t believe that the El Paso County Sheriff’s department (slated to be passed to the 4th Judicial District D.A.’s Office) can conduct an unbiased investigation.
“You hand off the investigation to your friends and things come out okay,” said Darold Killmer, whose law firm represents Bailey’s family, on the day after the police video was made public. “This is why we almost never see any decisions to prosecute [a police officer] who’s killed a member of the community.”
Also, the attorney notes, shooting people to stop them is not only unconstitutional but murder.
“If it plays out that he was not reaching for a gun, this is cold-blooded murder — and cold-blooded murder should be prosecuted as first-degree murder against the officers,” said Kilmer, who then cited a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court case Tennessee v. Garner.
“The 1985 Supreme Court pronouncement on this issue has been clear: Police don’t have unlimited ability to apprehend people. ... The Constitution of the United States of America, as well as the laws of the State of Colorado, circumscribe that police can’t shoot a felon to apprehend them. The law says clearly that the officer must have probable cause that there’s an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or somebody else.”
“In this case, there’s no evidence De’Von was trying to hurt somebody,” he adds. “The evidence is to the contrary. He was trying to flee.”
Bailey’s family is calling for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to take over the case from the sheriff’s office and the 4th Judicial District D.A., however, Colorado law notes that only a “CEO of a public safety organization” i.e., the Sherrif or D.A. (h/t CNN video) can make that determination, and perhaps that’s why people have taken to the streets in the aftermath—to force the sheriff’s hand to hand the case off.
At the time that he was shot to death, Bailey was facing “charges related to sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust that reportedly date back to 2015, when he was a juvenile. He pleaded not guilty to the crime a week or so before he died,” according to Westword.
To access the full De’Von Bailey autopsy report, click here.