The first trial related to the March 22, 2021, mass shooting at a Boulder King Soopers
didn't involve the man behind ten murders; last week, a judge ruled that he remains incompetent
to assist in his defense. Instead, the target was Dean Schiller, a self-described citizen journalist and videographer who just happened to be at the store with good friend Denny Stong, a King Soopers employee who became one of the victims. When the gunfire started, Schiller livestreamed the first images from the massacre
In March, the 20th Judicial District DA's office
formally charged Schiller with obstruction of justice
for allegedly interfering with the law-enforcement response to the shootings, an offense punishable by up to one year in jail. But yesterday, October 26, jurors found Schiller not guilty.
"This isn't just a big win for me, but for everyone — especially the media and people who are on the scene of crimes," Schiller says.
Schiller was well known to Boulder authorities prior to the attack. ZFG, his YouTube channel
, specializes in videos of law enforcement, with a particular focus on actions considered excessive. And in 2019, he and fellow videographer Jedon Kerr sued the Boulder Police Department for a rough arrest outside the county jail
, where they had been recording; the case was dismissed
in June 2021.
After Schiller was charged, 20th Judicial District DA's office spokesperson Shannon Carbone noted that the arrest affidavit asserted he "was ordered to leave the scene sixty times and he refused to do so." But at trial, Schiller maintained that he hadn't been an impediment to police efforts.
"I think one of the arguments they were trying to make is that my mere presence at the scene was a distraction, and therefore an obstruction — but they couldn't prove I physically obstructed them in any way," Schiller says. "They were trying to broaden the definition of obstruction to include distraction, and the jury didn't agree with that."
Had the decision gone the other way, the repercussions would have been considerable, Schiller believes. "Let's say there was a murder and someone was taking video on the scene, and the officer could see them and felt distracted by them — and they could then be arrested and be taken to jail," he notes. "But luckily, no precedent was set. So I think the trial was super-important."
A portrait of Dean Schiller's friend, the late Denny Stong.
I was among those who received a subpoena to testify at the trial, presumably because of previous interviews with Schiller. DA's office investigator Michael Bihrle sent an email with the document late in the afternoon on Friday, October 21, and didn't immediately reply to a response from an attorney representing Westword
, who contended that the subpoena violated the Colorado press shield law
. However, the subpoena was never formally served.
During his testimony, Schiller stresses, "I didn't embellish the truth or make anything up. I just went up there and told my side of the story. I would have liked to say more; I felt like a victim, and there was never an attempt by the Boulder Police Department to interview me about that." Indeed, he says that the first time a law-enforcement representative offered anything resembling condolences to him for Stong's death was at the outset of cross-examination by deputy district attorney Myra Gottl.
The trial was difficult from an emotional standpoint, he says: "It definitely brought up a lot of anxiety. My heart was beating out of my chest at a couple of points, where I got choked up and tears started welling in my eyes. I think that was the most I'd seen of the video since the day it happened, and it was hard to hear those shots being fired again."
He continues to feel abused by the process. On October 25, when the trial began, "Channel 7 ran an article
with a woman saying that watching the video had traumatized her and she wanted justice, meaning that she wanted me to be convicted. And I couldn't believe how many articles posted that I had obstructed justice sixty times. That opened the door to me having to defend my own reputation and who I am as a person, and I know I'm better than that. I don't hate cops; my cousin is a cop, and I love him to death. So there was a lot of misguided information and misdirected angst toward me. And even though it's now been proven to not be true, my name is still tarnished."
The shadow of prosecution put "the process of grieving on hold," Schiller adds. "I couldn't go places freely. I couldn't spend time with my mother; I couldn't go on vacation; I couldn't buy a car in another state. My life has been extremely restricted. So I know there will be a sense of relief, and it already feels like a weight has been lifted off my back. And I'm glad the decision went the way it did."
But why was he on trial at all? Was Schiller prosecuted because the DA's office was frustrated by its inability to take on the shooter directly, and wanted to indicate it was still making progress? "You kind of have to wonder if that's the case — and it did go through my mind," Schiller acknowledges. "Like, they had to put on a good show."