Jan 10, 2023 - News

More Colorado police face criminal charges for using force

Illustration of multiple photos of a police hat on an evidence board with pins and string.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

A Denver officer's recent indictment for his role in a shooting last summer made him at least the seventh law enforcement officer in Colorado to face criminal charges for using lethal force on duty in the past two years.

Why it matters: Those charges signal the tide may be turning for police officers who have historically avoided criminal charges related to on-duty shootings because prosecutors often find their actions justified.

  • Yes, but: Data suggests convictions remain rare.

Catch up quick: Denver officer Brandon Ramos faces two counts of second-degree assault, among other misdemeanor charges, for his involvement in the July 2022 LoDo shooting that left six bystanders injured.

Six other officers have been charged for on-duty shootings or use of force in the past two years; all were fatal incidents.

What they're saying: "The resistance to charging cops has definitely diminished over time," local defense attorney David Lane tells Axios Denver.

  • "My initial reaction is yes, this is a sign in the changing culture," local criminal justice reform activist Alex Landau said, adding social media and witnesses' audio and video footage are drawing more attention to police violence and prompting calls for accountability.

The other side: "To charge this officer with a felony crime, jeopardizing his career and liberty for acting as he was trained and in the public interest, with no malice, ill intent or lack of concern, is unfortunate and sad," the Denver police union said in a statement in response to the LoDo shooting indictment.

The big picture: Since 2005, at least 171 officers involved in on-duty shootings have been arrested for murder or manslaughter nationwide, according to Bowling Green State University criminal justice professor Philip Stinson.

  • 55 of the 171 were convicted, but convictions for officer offenses like murder are rare; seven officers have been convicted of murder since 2005, Stinson's data shows.
  • Stinson — who leads the university's Police Integrity Research Group — tells Axios, there hasn't been "a huge increase in officers" charged for the most serious crimes in recent years.
  • At least five officers have been arrested in Colorado for serious crimes since 2005.
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