Law Enforcement

Reaction to De'Von Bailey Grand Jury Letting Fatal-Police-Shooting Cops Skate

A screen capture of body-camera video showing a Colorado Springs Police Department sergeant shooting at De'Von Bailey.
A screen capture of body-camera video showing a Colorado Springs Police Department sergeant shooting at De'Von Bailey. City of Colorado Springs
Late yesterday afternoon, November 13, Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May revealed that a grand jury had determined there wasn't enough evidence to criminally charge the Colorado Springs police officers involved in the August 3 fatal shooting of nineteen-year-old De'Von Bailey as he was running away from them.

The grand jury's "No True Bill" conclusion — the term means that no indictments will be forthcoming against Sergeant Alan Van't Land and officer Blake Evenson, the two cops in the spotlight — was quickly followed by an open letter to the community from Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski. In it, he offers a nod to investigating agencies and the jurors themselves: "The Colorado Springs Police Department fully trusts and supports this process, we trust in the professional work conducted by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office, and we trust in the decision made by the community members who comprised the Grand Jury."

This take stands in stark contrast to the reactions of those representing Bailey's loved ones. Pastor Promise Lee, a past Westword interview subject, communicating through an intermediary, notes that the teen's family has not issued an official statement at this writing but is grieving. And Mari Newman of Denver-based Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP, their attorney, maintains that "it is certainly not a surprise to get a bad result when a tainted investigation is presented to a grand jury by a biased prosecutor."

Also weighing in is Colorado Springs lawyer Dan Kay, who's assisting Newman and company as well as working on behalf of Lawrence Stoker, Bailey's nineteen-year-old cousin. Stoker was with Bailey during the incident and has been accused of third-degree assault in the alleged (and largely debunked) robbery of Anthony Love that resulted in the police being called in the first place.

Notes Kay via email: "They are pursuing a case against Lawrence Stoker given there is overwhelming evidence he acted in self defense and substantial proof that Love is lying and is a serial swatter with six prior similar accusations.... Let’s contrast that with no charges where a young man is shot repeatedly in the back while running away. Is this justice?"

A family photo of De'Von Bailey. - FAMILY PHOTO
A family photo of De'Von Bailey.
Family photo
On August 16, immediately following the release of body-camera footage from Van't Land and Evenson, we outlined the prospects for prosecution of the law enforcers in our story "How Cops May Get Away With De'Von Bailey Homicide." As that piece noted, Bailey had a gun on his person at the time of the shooting — "deep within his basketball shorts," as attorney Darold Killmer, Newman's partner, put it. The weapon was retrieved by the officers who cut those shorts off Bailey after he hit the pavement on the 2400 block of East Fountain Boulevard in the Springs.

Bailey can be seen reaching for his pocket at least twice during his interactions with Van't Land and Evenson. Early on in video captured by Van't Land, he shifts his hand in that direction and begins trying to snake his fingers into the opening in the fabric, only to immediately move both hands away from his body and then raise them over his head after being ordered to do so. In the Evenson material, Bailey appears to be moving a hand toward the pocket again while sprinting away from the officers, only to quickly abandon the effort when it becomes clear that getting access to it is impossible.

Of course, Bailey never came close to grabbing the gun, much less brandishing it at Van't Land and Evenson. In Killmer's view, his only thought within a second or two of making the decision to run appears to have been to keep running rather than to shoot at the cops or anyone else. He made it just a few steps before the first projectile tore into him.

Here's a video that compiles the body-camera footage of Van't Land and Evenson, preceded by 911 audio. The Van't Land material gets under way at around the ten-minute mark, while Evenson's starts at about 12:30.

Warning: The imagery is extremely graphic and may disturb some readers.

Shootings involving Colorado Springs police officers are typically investigated by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, with the Fourth Judicial District DA making the choice about charges. But after the video's release, Governor Jared Polis upended the process by expressing his preference for an independent investigation.

Polis's August 22 statement:

Our nation is grappling with difficult challenges concerning race and how we treat one another. It is more important now at this moment in time that our law enforcement agencies go above and beyond to maintain public trust and confidence.

Fairness and objectivity are key to ensuring the public trusts the integrity of any investigation. Given how the events have unfolded surrounding the death of De’Von Bailey — the public details and video that have been shared and the questions that have been raised by the general public — I hope that El Paso county takes steps above those legally required to additionally maximize the public trust in the investigation.

I personally believe Colorado Springs residents would be best served by an independent review of the events surrounding De’Von Bailey’s death. An independent review would ensure the public’s confidence in the results, and maintain trust in law enforcement going forward. I encourage the El Paso County district attorney's office to consider turning the investigation’s findings over to another local jurisdiction for independent review, and if warranted, additional information gathering.

Thus far, Polis hasn't shared his thoughts about the grand jury's "No True Bill" move, but Newman hasn't forgotten about his earlier opinion. She sent a photo of Polis's release, along with her response to the decision. She also reiterated an argument she'd made regarding the release of an "undetermined" autopsy report in the death of Elijah McClain after an encounter with Aurora police officers.

David Lane, one of Newman's law-firm partners, had urged the creation of "a statewide, independent investigator who deals with police misconduct that rises to a criminal level," and Newman quickly endorsed the idea. "Not only do I agree," she told us, "but I've spoken with Governor Polis about it, and I've also been working with members of our state legislature to move forward with something like that. It's certainly true that departments investigating themselves doesn't work."

The grand jury's actions have only reinforced this opinion. "This is the exact reason why we have called for an independent investigation and an independent prosecution from the beginning," Newman says."The refusal to allow an independent investigation doomed the chances of a fair outcome from the outset. This is the result that the Colorado Springs DA’s Office and the police wanted, and it’s the decision they caused to happen."

This is hardly the last we'll hear about Bailey's death. Newman says plans for a lawsuit over the incident are still moving forward.

Here's the November 13 statement from CSPD's Niski:

Open letter from Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski

To Our Community:

As Chief of the Colorado Springs Police Department, I wanted to reach out to each and every one of you regarding the recent Grand Jury decision.

There is no doubt that the community of Colorado Springs has been tested over the last few months. What happened on August 3, 2019, is something neither police officers nor citizens ever want to experience. The loss of a son, a friend, a community member, is a devastating event that impacts all of us.

click to enlarge Governor Jared Polis's August statement about the De'Von Bailey shooting. - COURTESY OF MARI NEWMAN
Governor Jared Polis's August statement about the De'Von Bailey shooting.
Courtesy of Mari Newman
Please know that our officers and I do not take our responsibilities to our citizens lightly. It is our duty to serve everyone in our community with integrity, humility and excellence. We believe in open communication and partnership with our residents, and we fully acknowledge that there has been confusion and frustration surrounding this incident; especially the limited amount of information that could be released to the public. I wish we were able to immediately provide answers in the early stages of the investigation, but we have an obligation to follow the process set forth by the law and ensure first and foremost the integrity of the case and that a thorough, fair and truthful investigation is able to be completed.

This incident, like all other officer-involved shootings, was handed over to a professional outside law enforcement agency, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, which follows Colorado law. Their completed investigation was then turned over to the Fourth Judicial District Attorney's Office to make a ruling or refer the case to a Grand Jury — which was their ultimate decision. The Grand Jury's decision of a "No True Bill" is defined as a legal procedure to dismiss the defendants when the Grand Jury does not find enough evidence to charge the defendant with violating a law. The Colorado Springs Police Department fully trusts and supports this process, we trust in the professional work conducted by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office, and we trust in the decision made by the community members who comprised the Grand Jury.

I want to thank everyone for their patience and to all those who have provided input and engaged with us during this time. As an organization, we have heard your concerns and suggestions. My command staff and I are actively working with our partners to find better ways to be transparent and provide information faster, while maintaining the integrity of investigations.

I know this process has been difficult, but as we move forward together as a community, my officers and I remain committed to proudly serving you, the citizens of Colorado Springs.

Chief Vince Niski
Colorado Springs Police Department
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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