Last week, protesters held a police brutality march in honor of Kevin Ryberg, who died in police custody last month. Now, the Denver District Attorney's Office has determined that the officer who killed him in what Occupy Denver described as a murder will face no criminal charges.
Continue reading to see the DA's decision letter describing why the shooting was justified, as well as photos from the march.
According to the letter's "Statement of Facts," Denver officers received the following dispatch at 10:44 a.m. on July 31:
-MALE SLEEPING IN THE BED AT LOC -- HANDGUN LAYING NEXT TO HIM -SUSP [SUSPECT] NOT DOING ANYTHING WITH GUN -- RP [REPORTING PARTY] JUST WANTS OFFICERS TO CHECK IT OUT -SUSP WAS SUPPOSED TO CHECK OUT AT 1030 BUT IS SLEEPING IN THE BED -- RP AFRAID TO TALK TO HIM WITH THE GUN LAYING THERE
Three officers responded to the scene, and after what's described as a "brief struggle," Ryberg was taken into custody. He was soon placed in the back of a patrol car, and after a time, he asked that his handcuffs be loosened -- and apparently the left one came unlatched entirely, although the cops didn't realize that until later. Officer Tim Luke then arranged to drive Ryberg to the District Two substation, with another officer, Randall Krouse, following.
While en route, Luke and Ryberg were said to have spoken casually, with Ryberg mentioning that his dad was a cop. But then, Ryberg began asking questions about the destination that Luke considered "weird...and then all of a sudden he shoots through the sliding window." More from Luke's statement:
He dove right through there, through the, uh, slider window. So I grabbed onto him, went like this [indicating grabbing around head and shoulders]. Well, he dove down and grabbed the TASER, which was in the center median [console] down below, the yellow TASER. So he grabbed on to that, so I grabbed on that and we were fighting with it.
Then the TASER somehow falls down. Then he's coming down back at me, I'm like holding, he's reaching for my gun....
Well, the gun falls -- the TASER gun, and then I'm like pushing him back like this way. Well, then he keeps coming after me. Then he's like, it didn't phase him, it's like it didn't phase him at all. He comes down after me, he starts fighting with me, trying to reach for the [hand] gun [demonstrating the struggle] and I'm trying to hold it. And that's when, you know, I'm telling [Officer Krouse], 'Shoot him! Shoot him!'"
Krouse describes the situation from his point of view:
I see the suspect literally in there [the front seat area]. I go, "Oh! Shit!" So I pull up next to him and I'm thinking how do I get this vehicle stopped and [Officer Luke] has slowed down to, I don't know for sure, but between five and ten miles an hour. So I rammed my police car in front of him. [Officer Luke's car] still moved a little bit. I threw my door open. I recall trying to open up the passenger door -- it was locked. I run around the back of the car and I se [Officer Luke] struggling with this guy inside. Um, the driver's side is also locked. Um, the suspect's more toward the center of the car because he's still -- his legs are still through the window and, so I take my expandable [baton] out and smash that window out -- the driver's front window.
The breaking glass didn't stop the fight, Krouse noted as he continued his account.
Once I smash it out, I'm thinking to myself, I can't get to the suspect, I can't help [Officer Luke] there, so I reached through, unlocked the door, ran back around to the passenger side, tried to open [the door[ and it wouldn't open. Smashed that window out, so I got two windows smashed out now and, as I'm opening up the door -- I still have my baton in my hand and I hear [Officer Luke] say, "Shoot him! Shoot him!" I do't know what I did with the baton, but it was a natural instinct to pull the gun. And then I stopped, before I shot him, because I was scared I was going to shoot [Officer Luke] because they were right -- struggling with each other. So I kind of leaned more in [demonstrating] and then shot. I shot him twice.
Why did Ryberg allegedly attack Luke? One possibility cited by the DA's office in a footnote is his criminal history. A June 2012 warrant listed menacing (deadly weapon), third-degree assault and false imprisonment/domestic violence. A note on the warrant read, "Menaced victim w/knife & crowbar, per victim -- subj threatened to kill himself & arresting officer."
The conclusion of the DA's office about the righteousness of the officers' action is unambiguous. Note that Krouse even gets an attaboy in this section:
We commend Officer Krouse for his alert reaction to the quickly evolving situation. He displayed courage and good judgment in making a determination that firing a pistol was necessary to save the life of another at the moment he fired. This was clearly an encounter when, but for Officer Krouse's actions, Officer Luke would likely have been seriously injured or killed.
Is this an example of justifiable homicide that activists have exaggerated into a police brutality accusation? Or could Officer Krouse have ended the altercation without killing Ryberg? Read the entire letter below and come to your own decision. Then continue for photos of last week's march.
Police officer reminds protesters to "keep it legal."
Protesters write number to a legal help line on their arms.
Protester explains her cause to some curious neighbors
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More from our Politics archive: "Occupy Denver's May Day protest ends with three arrests for obstruction, public fighting."