The video showing the fatal shooting of Steven Nguyen by three Denver police officers is disturbing in the extreme, and after watching it, many viewers will question whether the gun-down was necessary even though Denver District Attorney Beth McCann has determined that it was legally justified.
But the footage is important beyond the facts of the case. The twelve-plus minutes' worth of images captured by the officers' body cameras are the first to be released under the Denver Department of Safety's new video-evidence policy, which allowed them to be made available publicly before an internal investigation of the officers' actions has been completed.
The new policy, as well as the video and DA McCann's decision letter explaining why the officers won't be criminally charged, are on view below — and while the rules sped up the distribution of the clip in this instance, they don't mandate a release within a set period of time, as do cities such as Chicago, whose procedures set a sixty-day limit, with provisions for an additional thirty-day extension. Indeed, Nguyen died on March 19, just shy of seven months ago. And neither do they call for all available video to be put out. The Nguyen video has been edited to remove what Mary Dulacki, the records administrator for the Department of Safety, describes as "segments that would have identified undercover officers or unmarked police vehicles."
What remains is still controversial, much like the incident as a whole. Police were searching for Mauricio Venzor-Gonzalez, an attempted murder suspect who escaped while at Denver Health, but members of the department's fugitive unit mistakenly identified Nguyen as their quarry. That led to a police pursuit of Nguyen and Rafael Landeros Jr., who was injured in the subsequent shooting but survived. The chase ended when the vehicle Landeros was piloting skidded off the pavement along the 4100 block of Albion Street. Moments later, three DPD officers — Austin Barela, William Bohm and Susan Mercado — opened fire after they claimed to see the men trying to grab a weapon.
Turns out there was a handgun in the car — a 9mm Beretta. Moreover, both Nguyen and Landeros had active warrants in their name. But the video doesn't offer definitive proof that the cops had no choice other than to pull their respective triggers when they did.
Here's the video, which may disturb some readers.
In the past, Denver officials might have held back the video until after their own inquiry had wrapped. That we're already able to see it reflects the development of the video-evidence policy.
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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.