Law Enforcement

King Soopers Shooting Videographer on Being Charged Criminally

Denny Stong and Dean Schiller had gone to the Boulder King Soopers together on March 22, 2021.
Denny Stong and Dean Schiller had gone to the Boulder King Soopers together on March 22, 2021. Family photo via The Sun/ZFG Videography via YouTube
Seemingly every aspect of the March 22, 2021, mass shooting at a Boulder King Soopers has been exhaustively covered by media organizations around the globe, including heartfelt tributes to the ten victims of the attack and criminal proceedings against the shooter. The gunman was deemed mentally incompetent to face trial last year, but a new hearing on his status has been set for next month, and according to an order by Boulder Chief Judge Ingrid Bakke made public this week, there's a "substantial probability" that continued medical treatment might improve his condition to the point where prosecution could move forward.

But another case related to the tragedy has escaped public notice. Dean Schiller — a self-described citizen journalist who had just finished shopping at the King Soopers with his good friend Denny Stong, an employee at the store, when the shooting started and livestreamed the tragic event for more than three hours — has been charged with obstruction of justice by the 20th Judicial District DA's Office headed by Michael Dougherty. The crime is punishable by up to a year in jail.

A trial has been set for August, even though concerns expressed in an arrest affidavit that the shooter could have learned about police tactics and positioning by watching the stream don't appear to have played out, and despite the fact that Schiller was likely in shock after seeing three dead bodies before personally taking fire. Moreover, Stong was subsequently revealed to have been among the individuals slain in the incident.

Schiller says that he was completely blindsided by the arrest, which took place months after the shooting, in part because law enforcement officials didn't reach out to him regarding any accusations. "I really wish they had come and talked to me," he notes. "I think we could have avoided a lot of bullshit if they had just asked me some questions and tried to figure out what my role was from the beginning. But there has never been any attempt to contact me and talk to me about it on a human level. It's so hard for me to comprehend what they're thinking and what their intentions are in this. It just seems like they're so heartless — no soul at all."

In the absence of any communication, Schiller has been left to wonder if Boulder authorities are retaliating against him in part because of his work with ZFG Videography, a YouTube channel that champions law enforcement accountability. As part of this mission, Schiller frequently takes video of arrests in Boulder and shares them online — a practice that has hardly made him a favorite of police officers in the city.

"I like to think I'm helping by putting out information so there's more transparency," Schiller maintains. "And if you watch any of my videos, I'm not out there trying to get in their way or saying 'F the police' or all of that stuff. That's not me. I'm just really out there taking video, keeping my mouth shut, trying to be a neutral observer and trying to stay out of their way. But for some reason, they think I'm a bad guy, and now they're trying to make an example out of me."

As Schiller told Westword in the wake of the shooting, he had been close with Stong and his family for years, and had even lived with them for a stretch. Earlier on March 22, he and Stong, who'd just turned twenty, had gone for a hike and then done some target practice at a nearby range before going to the King Soopers at 3600 Table Mesa Drive, where both Stong and his mother worked, to pick up some food for lunch. Schiller made his purchases and was heading to his car while Stong was still checking out when he heard gunfire.

The time was approximately 2:30 p.m. Schiller bolted from the car and raced toward the store while opening up the livestream. At the entrance, his camera captured images of one body just inside the store and two outside before bullets started flying his way. When a woman approached a victim on the pavement, Schiller warned her away while yelling for someone to call 911 as he ran toward the parking lot.

Over the course of the hours that followed, Schiller kept streaming even as the Boulder Police Department tweeted, "Do NOT broadcast on social media any tactical information you might see" — a message almost certainly directed at him. But he had no idea of that at the time. In fact, he says he did his best to ignore the messages pouring in from news agencies such as CNN, which wanted to use his video, though he did give verbal permission to journalists on the scene.

He stresses that he didn't even think about asking for payment for the video use until he heard from a representative with TMX, an online platform that licenses users' photos and videos to media outlets. He mentioned the company's offer while attempting to console Stong's family that evening and signed up after Stong's father told him, "If anyone should profit off this, it's you." In the end, he made about $4,000.

The money provided little consolation. Schiller, a Christian and regular church-goer, found himself losing his faith in the months that followed. "I just couldn't understand how a loving God could allow this kind of stuff to happen," he says.

And then, while recording a police interaction at a gas station later that year, an officer asked, "Are you Dean Schiller?" Upon confirming his identity, he recalls, "They said, 'We have a warrant for your arrest.' I didn't have any idea what they were even charging me with, but they took me down to the jail and said I had a $5,000 bond — and then they tried to keep me there. I had money in my bank account to bond out, but they said their system was down." He was released only after his friend Jedon Kerr, a fellow videographer who sued the City of Boulder in 2019 after he was arrested and detained for taking video of Boulder County Jail on a public sidewalk, brought in a bail-bond agent.

At this point, Schiller can't remember precisely when the arrest took place; he thinks it may have been as early as August or as late as October. But the warrant was actually written and time-stamped on May 13, as revealed when the 20th Judicial District DA's Office provided a copy to Westword in lieu of remarks from Dougherty, who can't comment directly because the case is still pending, according to  spokesperson Shannon Carbone. In addition to providing the affidavit, Carbone draws particular attention to its allegations that Schiller "was ordered to leave the scene sixty times and he refused to do so."

In addition, the affidavit states that Schiller's livestream "exposed responding officers' locations, movements and tactics as this event unfolded. This jeopardized the lives and safety of all responding officers, as well as the safety and lives of the victims still inside."

Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley was also killed in the shooting when he rushed into the store in response to emergency calls. But Schiller says he has never been told that his livestream played a role in Talley's death or anyone else's, and no such public claims have been made.

After his arrest, Schiller secured the services of an attorney. But when Schiller didn't agree to plead guilty at a preliminary hearing and instead wanted to take the case to trial, the lawyer resigned. Schiller is now hoping to line up new representation.

In the meantime, the fact that the DA's office hasn't offered to either drop the case in exchange for an apology or present him with a plea deal that would take jail time off the table strikes Schiller as both baffling and frightening. He's still struggling to process the horrors he witnessed, he says, but each time he has to deal with the criminal matter, he's traumatized again.

"I'd love to move on," he admits. "I can't even leave the state right now. I'd like to be able to go visit my family and be around people who are supportive of me, or even go on vacation and get my mind off of this for just a little while. But I'm stuck dealing with this. I feel like I'm in a vicious cycle of continually returning to the memory of what happened."

Click to view Schiller's livestream (warning — its contents may disturb some readers) and the Dean Schiller arrest affidavit.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts