Red Rocks shooting: Attorney David Lane on whether police response may have broken laws
More photos below.
As part of our coverage of last week's shooting at Red Rocks during the Nas-Flying Lotus-Schoolboy Q concert, we've shared a detailed description of the law enforcement response from Jeffco sheriff's office rep Jacki Kelley as well as accounts from Bree Davies and Mary Willson, two Backbeat contributors who were at the show.
The experiences of Davies and Willson occasionally differ from the description of events offered by Kelley. But did authorities break the law? We sought out the opinion of attorney David Lane, who last month filed a lawsuit on behalf of people subjected to searches and more following a 2012 bank robbery in Aurora -- with the latter delayed for far less time than were many Red Rocks attendees.
On June 2, 2012, as we've reported, Christian Paetsch, a former high-school music teacher, broke bad in a big way, donning a beekeeper's mask to rob a Wells Fargo bank in Aurora.
Surveillance footage of Paestch in action.
The suit notes that the cash stolen by Paetsch, who was sentenced to just over seven years behind bars for the crime back in April 2013, included a GPS transponder that signaled its general location to the Aurora Police Department. But as Lane told us at the time of our previous post, the APD didn't have the proper equipment needed to zero in on the device's exact location.
"The FBI had the pinpoint locator," Lane maintained, "but it was a Saturday, and when the Aurora police called, no one was home. So an on-duty agent had to drive for over an hour to get the pinpoint locator -- and when he finally arrived, he didn't know how to use it.
"At that point," he continued, "everybody had been detained for over an hour. People were pulled out of their cars at gunpoint, including a fourteen-year-old child, who had a high-powered rifle pointed directly at his chest. And pointing weapons at children is never all right unless the child is armed or you have some compelling reason to believe the child is armed."
The scene in June 2012.
In addition, some of the plaintiffs in the Aurora case claim to have been manhandled by police. Lane says one man who'd just undergone surgery was forced to his knees, then yanked by his shoulder in ways that still require physical therapy.
At this writing, we've heard no such stories coming out of Red Rocks, where officers from multiple agencies were on the lookout for a gunman who opened fire on an SUV containing hip-hop star Schoolboy Q; although the rapper was uninjured, three people in the vehicle with him were hurt. But while Jeffco's Kelley says that to her knowledge no concert-goers were asked to leave their cars so that law enforcers could search them, Davies reveals that this happened to her. Likewise, Kelley suggests that most people were held up for about ninety minutes after the show's midnight-or-so conclusion, but Willson was stuck for about four hours before she finally got going.
Were these violations? They might be, Lane believes.
An officer conducting car checks after the concert.
"They're allowed to shine flashlights into people's cars," Lane says. "But unless they have a reasonable suspicion, they can't force a car to stop, order the occupants out and go in and search a car for a gun. They can't do that.
"Basically, they can do anything you can do," he continues. "Police aren't special; they aren't above the law, contrary to what some of them think. So you can walk around with a flashlight and shine a light in a car if you want to, and so can they. Beyond that, a brief investigatory detention is permissible -- but a brief detention is not four hours."
Would the size of the crowd -- literally thousands of people -- and the trickiness of exiting from Red Rocks Park, which was exacerbated by the construction-related closure of a major gate, make the delay more justifiable?
"Probably not," Lane replies. "These judges are bound by precedent. And what, really, is the efficacy of shining a light into a car? If you're the shooter, are you going to have a gun on your lap when they do that? What's the point? Really, the only effective searches would be complete searches looking for a gun, but it's legal to have a gun in your car -- and they're not allowed to seize everyone's gun and do ballistics tests on them. That's definitely not legal."
On the other hand, Lane feels that "asking people if they saw anything is probably permissible -- just having a driver roll down a window and ask, 'Did you see anything?' If you get a positive response, you detain them, and if you don't, you let them go. That would probably take two seconds a car, so that would be reasonable."
At the time of our conversation, no one who'd been at the show had contacted Lane -- and earlier this week, Kelley told us her office hadn't received any formal complaints. Meanwhile, the shooter remains at large.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Follow That Story archive circa June 25: "Red Rocks shooting: Jeffco sheriff's office on illegal-search claims, hunt for gunman."