Denver police officer Michael Traudt faces no discipline over a tattoo on his hand that duplicates the logo of the 3 Percenters, defined by the Anti-Defamation League as an anti-government militia group. And the ink is a fairly recent addition. Lynn Eagle Feather says Traudt didn't have such a tattoo when he shot and killed her mentally ill, suicidal son, Paul Castaway, in 2015.
The following year, Eagle Feather filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in Castaway's death. U.S. District Court Judge Wiley Y. Daniel subsequently tossed claims about the shooting made against the City and County of Denver, Chief of Police Robert White, Jerry Lara, another Denver officer who also responded to the fateful call about Castaway, and Traudt in his official capacity. However, Traudt is still on the hook as an individual in regard to actions for which he wasn't punished by either the Denver Police Department or the Denver District Attorney's Office under previous DA Mitch Morrissey.
Matthew Buck, Eagle Feather's attorney, says he expects a court date for 2019 to be set in the next few weeks. Speaking about Traudt's legal team, Buck adds that "they have given me no indication that they want to settle. So I think this case is headed to a jury trial, hopefully in the fall of next year."
The wait for such a hearing has already been an agonizing one for Eagle Feather, who told us around the time the suit was filed that "I called for help, not a killing."
On July 12, 2015, Eagle Feather was babysitting her grandchildren at her home in a trailer park at 4545 Morrison Road.
That's when Castaway, whom she believed to be intoxicated, busted into the residence — she'd previously kicked him out — and poked her in the neck with a knife, producing a minor wound.
After Castaway allegedly broke several household items and split, Eagle Feather headed to the nearby Denver Indian Center and dialed 911. "He's mentally ill and drunk," Eagle Feather told the operator. She added, "Please hurry!" and "I'm so scared!" — and also suggested that her son had been doing meth and was suicidal.
At 6:22 p.m., Traudt, who had been on the force for just over a year at that point, arrived at the scene alongside Lara, and amid their investigation, they spotted Castaway.
An excerpt from Traudt's account of what happened next, from the decision letter released by the DA's office, reads:
He started walking. There's a chain-link fence between where our vehicle was and where he was. So I pulled my patrol vehicle up, my fully marked patrol vehicle, and then got out of the car in full uniform. I announced myself as a Denver police officer. I said, "Denver police. Stop!" And he looked at me, he made eye contact with me and my partner, and then he kept walking up the chain-link fence. As I started to close distance between me and him, he took off running southbound along the chain-link fence. I then gave chase, I aired it to dispatch that we were running southbound through the trailer park in the 4500 block of Morrison Road.
Before long, Castaway put the knife to his own throat and told Traudt, "Kill me, you fucking pussy," the officer recalled. Traudt said he responded by repeatedly saying, "Drop the knife!"
Instead, Castaway ran, and Traudt gave chase as neighborhood kids scattered — actions caught on this video, released by the DA's office. Warning: Its contents may disturb some viewers.
What followed was a face-off between Castaway, who was still holding the knife to his throat, and Traudt, pointing his service weapon at him. Officer Lara said he was in the midst of transitioning to a Taser when Castaway began advancing toward Traudt — at which point Traudt pulled the trigger three times, striking Castaway twice. Castaway died from gunshot wounds to the torso.
In a previous Westword interview, Buck characterized this lethal response as unnecessary for several reasons. First of all, "it wasn't a combat knife. It was a kitchen knife that was no threat to Officer Traudt. It might not have even been a threat to Paul." Moreover, "this wasn't a situation where either of these officers was in danger. Paul was pointing the knife at himself, not them. But when Paul took a step toward them, Traudt unloaded on him."
Eagle Feather, for her part, described Castaway as "a very loving father who left behind a four-year-old son." She added, "I do want to see police held accountable. ... The police had known about my son. They'd arrested him many times at my place. So they knew him — except for the man who shot him that day. And he shot him in the liver, in front of eighteen children."
The case has taken so long to move forward, Buck says today, partly because Castaway didn't have a will. "Last month, we got an issuance of what are called testamentary letters," he explains. "The letter designates Lynn as in charge of the estate, which we need to get some discovery" — the legal term for the procedure under which parties to a lawsuit can ask for pre-trial information: documents, depositions, written interrogatories and more.
A court date, which Buck expects to receive next month, will further expedite this process. But he doesn't expect Traudt's tattoo — which the officer says he got to honor the National Guard, not to align with the 3 Percenters, a group of which he maintains he's never been a member — to be much of a factor.
"It would be tough to prove it had any effect on the case," Buck acknowledges. "It appears to be a new affiliation. But I didn't think he was a good guy three years ago, and this hasn't changed my view that he is not the kind of person who should represent this city."
Click to read the original complaint in the death of Paul Castaway.
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