#PickingUpTrashWhileBlack: Colorado Cop Resigns After Drawing Gun on Man Cleaning His Yard

Zayd Atkinson is wrongfully harassed by Boulder, Colorado police officers
Zayd Atkinson is wrongfully harassed by Boulder, Colorado police officers
Screenshot: YouTube

A white Boulder, Colorado, police officer has resigned after an internal affairs report denounced his threatening behavior—documented on video by a bystander—toward a black man picking up trash around his apartment building.


Officials confirmed Thursday that John Smyly violated policy (not to mention common sense) when he drew his gun in an attempt to arrest 26-year-old Zayd Atkinson in March, ABC News reports.


The debacle started with the police officer noticing Atkinson in the predominantly white neighborhood.

“I couldn’t help but notice you sitting on the patio behind this building …I’m just checking to make sure you have the right to be here,” newly released body-camera footage shows Smyly saying. Atkinson, a college student, told the officer that he lived and worked in the building; he was picking up trash around his property and provided the office with a school identification card to prove his identity.

Trigger-happy Smyly, still not satisfied, continued to harass Atkinson, who rightfully grew more and more outraged at the encounter.

“Sit down or you’re probably gonna get tased in a second,” the officer ordered Atkinson.



“Because you have a weapon … put it down and comply with my order!”

“You’re an idiot,” Atkinson is heard saying on the video, speaking for the masses (and censored for content). “Why would you think that you can tase me? I’m freakin’ picking up trash on my property, which is where I live! I’m not doing anything illegal and you’re not gonna [fucking] tase me, Officer.”


Smyly still could have walked away at this point, but instead, he called for backup, claiming Atkinson was “being uncooperative and unwilling to put down a blunt object.” Eight officers responded, some with guns drawn.

“I will not sit down! I refuse to sit down until you guys put your [fucking] weapons away!” Atkinson says.


After a 22-minute standoff, police asked a white woman in the building to verify Atkinson was a resident and not a trespassing—as if his word and his ID card weren’t enough.

Yes!” the woman snapped back, clearly fed up with the racist profiling.

Only then, with the clarification of a white witness, did police announce: “We’ve decided that we’re gonna end things at this point.”


“Oh wow, what a surprise …” Atkinson is heard replying, dryly.

According to ABC News, an internal police investigation found that Smyly’s continued efforts to take Atkinson into custody were “not supported by reasonable suspicion that Mr. Atkinson was committing, had committed, or was about to commit a crime.” It was clearly another case of black people daring to exist.


Smyly decided to abandon ship; the 14-year veteran quit before he was fired. “While the finding likely would have resulted in suspension or possibly termination, Officer Smyly resigned prior to the conclusion of the disciplinary process,” according to a statement released Thursday by the city of Boulder. How convenient.

Smyly had no prior discipline on record and is slated to receive around $70,000 in vacation and sick days until his resignation goes into effect in February, ABC News reports. Atkinson’s attorney plans on filing a civil rights lawsuit to prevent the payout.


In an interview last month on Good Morning America, Atkinson described the encounter as a “traumatic experience.”

“I thought that once the firearm was out that that meant that he was going to try to kill me,” Atkinson said. “It was a frightening experience. I didn’t know what else to do besides, you know, to fight with my voice and to practice my rights, which were thoroughly being breached.”

Correction: Sept. 17, 2019, 12:25 p.m. ET: This story has been edited to remove unattributed text and to add fuller sourcing.

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Boulder resident here...very few minorities in the city, except for a chunk of college students, but we’re a pretty lefty friendly place and the cops don’t have a horrendous rep, so run ins like this aren’t the norm.