Activism

Samuel Young Gets Seventy Days in Jail, Probation for Controversial I-225 Shooting

Samuel Young as seen in an Aurora Police Department photo taken amid a July 2020 protest on I-25.
Samuel Young as seen in an Aurora Police Department photo taken amid a July 2020 protest on I-25. Aurora Police Department/James Radek
Update: On May 17, Samuel Young was sentenced to seventy days in jail and five years of probation for shooting at a Jeep that he feared was trying to injure social justice advocates who'd swarmed onto Interstate 225 during a 2020 protest — an incident that injured two people. Prosecutors had requested a six-year prison stint. Young reportedly read a statement in court in which he apologized for his actions, for which he took "full responsibility."

For more details about the incident, read our original coverage of Young's conviction:

Original post, 8 a.m. April 1: On March 31, Samuel Young was found guilty on seven counts related to a shooting during a 2020 racial justice protest on Interstate 225. Young injured two people while firing at a Jeep that he thought was targeting demonstrators on the highway — actions that his supporters see as the equivalent of self-defense.

The charges pressed by prosecutors included first-degree assault, but the jury opted instead to convict Young on two charges related to second-degree assault, four pertaining to attempted manslaughter and one about illegally discharging a firearm. But he still faces considerable time in prison: two to six years for each of the second-degree assaults and one to three years for each of the others. No wonder some of Young's backers began crying after the verdicts were read.

The July 25, 2020, protest focused on the August 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed Black man who was attacked by police officers despite having committed no crime. A previous demonstration — a June 27 rally in which musicians playing violins in tribute to McClain, who loved the instrument, were among hundreds of people rousted by Aurora police officers armed with pepper spray and more — was fresh in the minds of many participants. So was the recent heavy-handed law enforcement response to George Floyd demonstrations in Oregon, as referenced in the event's name: "Solidarity With Portland Action and Justice for Elijah McClain."

What happened next was shocking. At around 7 p.m. on July 25, according to an account published on the Aurora Police Department blog, "Officers observed, from a media helicopter, a Jeep that was traveling northbound on I-225 heading towards the protesters. The Jeep then drives into the crowd. While the Jeep was being driven through the crowd, multiple shots were fired by a protester."

Two people "were struck by gunfire," the narrative continued. "One adult male was shot in the leg and had to be transported to the hospital by ambulance. Another adult male was shot in the head, only causing a graze wound. He was transported to the hospital by a private vehicle. The Jeep continued northbound on I-225, eventually exiting the interstate at East 6th Avenue. The driver pulled over at E. 6th Ave and Billings Street when he located officers who were investigating a separate, unrelated crash at that location. The driver was positively identified, questioned, and the Jeep was impounded for evidentiary purposes."

The driver insisted that he hadn't purposefully tried to injure demonstrators. Instead, the APD blog recapped, "He advised officers that while on I-225, his vehicle began to be surrounded by protesters, who were yelling and striking his vehicle. He also claims that a white pickup truck struck the front of his vehicle. He claims that the reason that he drove towards the protesters is because he was scared and trying to get away."

This assertion wasn't universally accepted. CBS4 Denver reporter Dillon Thomas reported that, based on his observations, the car "‘aggressively’ made its way toward protesters." But no charges were immediately pressed against the Jeep's driver, later identified as Kyle Faulkison, and that September, then-18th Judicial District DA George Brauchler announced that he couldn't justify a prosecution.

"Through the entire distance...this Jeep really stays in the center lanes of the highway here," Brauchler said at a press conference on the subject. He also noted that the driver had the "ability, in my opinion, to swerve left, swerve right, [in a way that would] indicate some type of intent or maliciousness to hurt someone on his part," but instead had done the "opposite."

By then, Young had already been criminally charged, Shortly before his trial began, James Radek, an anti-racist activist, revolutionary socialist and member of the Denver Communists, laid out the case for his innocence in a Westword op-ed titled "Drop the Charges Against Samuel Young — Self-Defense Is Not a Crime."

In contrasting his belief that Young had actually been trying to protect the protesters with law enforcement's refusal to accept that theory, Radek wrote: "The state’s double standards come as no surprise to any experienced activist. In any confrontation between liberatory social movements and vigilantes who violently oppose them, the approach of the cops and courts is to enable and protect the vigilantes and to join in on the brutalization of the movement activists. They make the criminal appear to be the victim and the victim appear to be the criminal. It’s easy to see why: Vigilante violence aligns with the state’s priority of suppressing combative, system-challenging social movements."
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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