Denver protesters demonstrated in front of District Attorney Beth McCann’s home Friday night as the family of a man killed by police last month questioned the official account of his death.
About 90 minutes later, in an unusual live interview, McCann called into 9News’ 10 p.m. newscast to say she shares protesters’ desire for justice in the William DeBose shooting. She defended the withholding of body-worn camera footage from the public until after the investigation of the incident is complete.
DeBose, 21, an African American, was fatally shot in west Denver late on May 1. Police followed his speeding vehicle and said that after DeBose fled on foot, he pointed a handgun at officers, one of whom opened fire.
His family members were among those at the Friday protest — organized in honor of several people killed by Denver and Aurora police — and have questioned the police account of what happened, calling for an independent investigation. But an attorney representing the family told The Denver Post that they declined to continue with the marchers to McCann’s home in the Congress Park neighborhood about 8:30 p.m.
During McCann’s call-in interview, she confirmed that her office showed DeBose’s family and their attorney the body-camera footage on Thursday. She said releasing the video publicly now, as the family’s attorney wants, could harm the investigation while it’s still underway. Investigators are awaiting an autopsy report, which she said could arrive in the coming week.
“The protesters that were at my house tonight were not asking for the release of the body-worn camera, they were asking for justice,” she said. “It’s important to know that I absolutely agree with them that it is important — I support Black Lives Matter, I supported the bill that just passed (the state legislature) for police accountability, and I think we’re moving forward.”
She asked for patience with the investigation.
Family attorney Birk Baumgartner said Saturday that the body-worn camera footage he saw this week casts doubt on parts of the police account of the shooting.
Days after the incident, police said officers had noticed DeBose driving fast on westbound Interstate 70 and then south on Interstate 25. A police helicopter tracked the vehicle, and officers attempted a traffic stop after DeBose exited onto West Colfax Avenue, police said.
DeBose and a woman exited the vehicle on foot in the parking lot of the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales public library branch, police said, and officers contend that he pointed a handgun at them as he was fleeing, prompting an officer to shoot him multiple times; police said they found DeBose’s handgun on the ground next to him after he fell. The woman with DeBose was Sierra Martinez, his common-law wife, and she disputed in a recent interview with CBS4 that he pointed a gun before police shot him.
Asked about what he saw on the body-worn camera video, Baumgartner said: “It’s more what you don’t see that’s notable. You cannot see Mr. DeBose pull a gun on the police officer at all — I do not think that’s what happened and neither does the family.
“It appears to us that Mr. DeBose was shot from the side, with the bullet entering possibly at a side angle to his upper chest and the side of his face.” That indicates to Baumgartner that police may have fired on DeBose as he ran, and he turned around as he was hit.
Baumgartner says that on the video, as a Denver police sergeant arrives, the officer who fired at DeBose is heard saying that he drew his gun after DeBose pulled out his weapon. “But this officer had his gun out at the moment he contacted Mr. DeBose,” Baumgartner said.
When asked by a 9News anchor Friday whether DeBose was shot in the back, McCann said: “No, he was not. We’re waiting for the autopsy, but the body-worn camera shows the wound in the front, in the chest.” She provided no further details about the video.
The Denver District Attorney’s Office declined an interview request on McCann’s behalf Saturday and referred to a statement that was posted on its website Friday evening, before the protest began. It explains the investigative process in the DeBose case.
Outside McCann’s home earlier in the evening, protesters expressed frustration at the many case reviews by her office that have cleared officers of wrongdoing in police-action shootings, according to news reports and social media posts.
Friday’s protest was the latest in more than two weeks of daily demonstrations in Denver since the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. The action, organized by the Denver Party for Socialism and Liberation, began at the Colorado Capitol.
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