Crime

Denver Cop Sued for Slaying Unarmed Dion Damon Had Killed Twice Before

The bullet-hole-peppered windshield of Dion Damon's Dodge Charger.
The bullet-hole-peppered windshield of Dion Damon's Dodge Charger. Denver District Attorney's Office

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click to enlarge During his post-shooting interview, Officer Jeffrey Motz can be seen demonstrating a two-handed stance while describing his fatal encounter with suspect Dion Damon. - HOLLAND, HOILLAND EDWARDS & GROSSMAN/KILLMER, LANE & NEWMAN LLP
During his post-shooting interview, Officer Jeffrey Motz can be seen demonstrating a two-handed stance while describing his fatal encounter with suspect Dion Damon.
Holland, Hoilland Edwards & Grossman/Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP
Nonetheless, Motz kept insisting that he'd seen a gun, and in his interview, which was captured in video, the suit stresses that he mimicked a two-handed shooting stance to simulate Damon's maneuver even though he'd said earlier the suspect held the gun in his right hand. Attorney Holland sees that as significant.

"He said the right hand thrust out," Holland says. "He was highly specific about it: 'I saw a gun in his right hand. He thrust it at me.' But then he immediately contradicted it."

When it became clear no gun was present, the lawsuit accuses DPD investigators of going out of their way to concoct a theory that Motz could have confused the white cell phone for a black-and-silver semi-automatic. A prime example was a photo juxtaposition that likened the camera's lens to the opening of a gun barrel — but to make the comparison believable, the former was significantly enlarged.

"Had the police investigators distorted and resized a picture of the entire phone in the same proportion as they used to resize the image of the camera lens alone, the resulting image of the entire phone would be approximately 6.8 times as long as the above gun image is tall and 4.9 times as wide as the gun image," the text allows. But in the end, "DA Mitch Morrissey relied on this obviously distorted white-phone-to-black-gun comparison to conclude: "Damon was the cause of the lethal outcome because he made the sudden threatening gesture pretending to point a gun at Motz."

click to enlarge The distorted comparison of a cell-phone lens and the barrel of a semi-automatic pistol. - HOLLAND, HOILLAND EDWARDS & GROSSMAN/KILLMER, LANE & NEWMAN LLP
The distorted comparison of a cell-phone lens and the barrel of a semi-automatic pistol.
Holland, Hoilland Edwards & Grossman/Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP
This wasn't the only reason Morrissey ruled in favor of Motz.

The DA's decision letter argues that "the location of the entrance wound shows that the outside of Damon’s forearm was facing Motz when it was struck. In other words, Damon’s palms were not facing Motz when he was shot," as they would be, presumably, if he'd been raising his hands in the traditional surrender motion. As such, "it is exactly the wound path one would expect if Damon was shot in the forearm while making the gesture with his hands that Motz described. This evidence strongly supports Motz’s credibility and the accuracy of his description of Damon’s gesture."

In contrast, the lawsuit states: "The autopsy’s findings are entirely consistent with Mr. Damon showing Defendant Motz his hands as ordered, placing his hands on the wheel or preparing to exit the car, raising his arms in front of his face after Defendant Motz’s gunfire commenced, being hit in his arm as he was collapsing from prior bullets, or other entirely benign explanations for why the bullets struck Mr. Damon the way that they did."

To attorney Killmer, Morrissey's theory is as dubious as the prospect floated by the DA that Damon may have been trying to commit "suicide by cop" even though his wife was in clear view. And he's offended by the post-mortem efforts to legitimize the shooting by shifting focus to heroin that was in Damon's system at the time of his death or the bank robbery, the investigation of which remains open to this day — perhaps to give the authorities an excuse not to turn over documents related to it, Killmer speculates.

"The City of Denver has a playbook they resort to immediately upon having killed someone — and their first shot across the bow is always how bad the person was who's been killed," he says. "The effort is to make the community not care that a human life has been extinguished at the hands of law enforcement — that they must have been bad people and deserved what they got, even though they were unarmed. It's a blame-the-victim mentality that's absolutely reprehensible."

Denver DA Mitch Morrissey used the bullet holes in Dion Damon's arm, as seen in this post-mortem photo, in his decision letter that found Officer Jeffrey Motz's actions justified. - DENVER DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
Denver DA Mitch Morrissey used the bullet holes in Dion Damon's arm, as seen in this post-mortem photo, in his decision letter that found Officer Jeffrey Motz's actions justified.
Denver District Attorney's Office
More germane, in Killmer's view, is Motz's past. In his words, "Officer Motz had already shot and killed at least two people before he killed Mr. Damon. He and seven other officers shot a man named Shaun Gilman in 2003, and upon being questioned afterward, Officer Motz said, 'He had a gun,' which wasn't true. Mr. Gilman didn't have a gun; he had a crossbow. Now, you might think a person could mistake a crossbow for a gun pretty easily, but Officer Motz went one step further: He said Mr. Gilman had a gun and was firing it right at the officer, which was pure fiction — but investigators never interrogated him about why he said gunshots were being fired when they weren't. And in 2013, he and other officers also killed a man named Johnny Montoya, who apparently did have a gun — but the shooting is the subject of litigation by another guy who was shot in the incident, Michael Valdez. He was a completely innocent guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and another officer shot him in the back after he and his girlfriend had put their hands up and laid face-down on the ground."

In 2002, before any of these slayings, the lawsuit points out that Motz "sustained administrative charges of 'Failure to Shoot.'" To Killmer, "that kind of makes you wonder. You discipline employees so they learn a lesson and don't do something again, and Officer Motz hasn't been disciplined for failure to shoot since that — and neither has he been disciplined for shooting repeatedly."

Hence the lawsuit, whose importance goes beyond the facts of the case in Holland's opinion. "For some time in America, it seems, the Fourth Amendment has been on the run — and we are increasingly in a period in which police treat civilians as if they aren't even citizens. That's why the citizens of this country need to demand the protections of the Fourth Amendment and continuously protest the killings of unarmed people by people who are heavily armed — people called the police."

Click to read Estate of Dion Damon v. City and County of Denver and Jeffrey Motz and the 2016 Dion Damon decision letter.
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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