Aug 18, 2022 - News

What a grand jury means for the LoDo police shooting

Illustration of the statue of Justice holding handcuffs in place of a scale
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A grand jury tasked with investigating last month's police shooting in LoDo is part of a larger trend of intensifying scrutiny when officers use force, national policing experts tell Axios Denver.

Driving the news: The grand jury will review facts and evidence to determine whether the officers involved should face criminal charges. "Utilizing grand juries has become a stronger way to go," national police procedures expert Timothy Dimoff says.

  • It provides a chance for a largely non-prejudicial group of people to make a decision rather than it falling solely on a prosecutor, who often works in tandem with police, Dimoff adds.

Why it matters: This is the first time Denver District Attorney Beth McCann has called on a grand jury to review whether an officer shooting at a suspect was justified. McCann has been in the role since 2017.

  • Her decision coincides with the release of body camera footage that put into question the police department's account of the July 17 incident, which injured six bystanders.
  • Police also faced political pressure from members of city council and the community.
  • In dozens of previous cases, the city's top prosecutor deemed "officer-involved shootings" legally justified.

What they're saying: "Maybe this is the way of the future, I think … [it] would be a good thing," University of Colorado Law School professor Ann England tells us.

  • England said grand jury investigations in the state are "very uncommon," and used in "highly political" cases.

Details: Officers nationwide will face extensive review for use of force incidents, including shootings, by prosecutors at all levels, said Dimoff, a former narcotics detective and SWAT member who has run a consulting firm for the past 33 years.

  • Dimoff noted that body-worn cameras for officers are providing a measure of "objectivity" for use of force reviews, while citizens are regularly recording police actions and calling for more accountability.

Context: In Colorado and beyond, it's historically rare for officers to be charged after shooting someone in the line of duty, fatally or not.

Yes, but: The mood is shifting in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder in 2020.

  • Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted last year for his role in Floyd's death and sentenced to 22.5 years. Three other former officers were also charged.
  • Last year, a state grand jury filed multiple criminal charges, including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, against three Aurora police officers and two paramedics for their role in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain.
  • In May, a former Loveland police officer was sentenced to five years in prison after violently arresting a 75-year-old woman in 2020.
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