Jul 5, 2023 - News

How Paul Childs' death changed policing in Denver

Photo illustration of a Denver Police cruiser with lines radiating from it.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Former state House Speaker Terrance Carroll calls Paul Childs' death a formative moment in Denver — though Carroll hasn't lost sight of just how tragic the teenager's shooting was.

Why it matters: Protests over his death led to major changes, including eliminating a safety review commission and replacing it with the Office of the Independent Monitor and the Citizen Oversight Board.

  • The board appoints the monitor, who serves as a watchdog for the city's law enforcement agencies.

Catch up quick: On July 5, 2003, police responded to a call from Childs' family in Park Hill after he started following his mother around the house with a kitchen knife.

  • Childs, 15, was legally blind, developmentally disabled, and had seizures. Police had responded to the Black teenager's home at least 47 times prior.
  • The responding officer that day, James Turney, was unaware of Childs' disability, according to the Denver Post.
  • Childs was fatally shot by Turney inside his front door after he moved slowly toward the officer without dropping the knife.

What they're saying: The COB released a statement on Wednesday acknowledging the anniversary of Childs' death. "Today, we grieve that not all Americans have enjoyed the same freedoms and justice as others, particularly those in underserved communities," it read.

The intrigue: "For Denver, it was our George Floyd moment," Carroll, who is on the board, tells us.

  • Carroll said the board and monitor are two "crucially important" ways to improve trust in law enforcement by increasing transparency and giving people an opportunity to voice concerns about police.

State of play: 20 years after his passing, the board detailed ways law enforcement has changed.

  • A Colorado law enacted in 2020 requires a duty to intervene when officers are using force unlawfully, bans qualified immunity for officers, and mandates detailed data collection.
  • Denver's police and sheriff's departments have changed their use-of-force policy multiple times — including prohibiting chokeholds, emphasizing de-escalation when possible, and using the minimum amount of force necessary.
  • Body cameras are required for both law enforcement agencies in the city.

What's next: Local criminal justice reform activist Alex Landau tells us he wants the incoming mayoral administration to consider revising the police disciplinary matrix.

  • It sets standards to determine discipline based on violations by an officer.
  • Landau said it needs to be changed to ensure bad officers don't return to the agency.

Of note: Turney was not charged but did receive a 10-month suspension in part for immediately confronting Childs rather than trying to speak to him once his family was no longer in danger.


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