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James Woodall Police Shooting and Role of Less-Than-Lethal Shotgun

A Remington 870 in action.
A Remington 870 in action.
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On April 16, 18th Judicial District DA John Kellner's office released a decision letter declaring the December 2020 Castle Rock police shooting of James Woodall during a domestic-violence incident to be justified — a development that several Denver-area news outlets reported in perfunctory fashion. But the document reveals that the incident was far more complex and concerning than such coverage implies.

According to the decision letter, authored by Chief Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham, Castle Rock Officer James Dinges mistook a knife in Woodall's hand for a gun and fired at him with a Colt M4 rifle after hearing a blast from what he thought was the suspect's firearm. However, the sound was actually produced by fellow officer Luke Godfrey squeezing the trigger of his Remington 870, referred to as a "less-than-lethal shotgun" — although such weapons have been known to maim, as evidenced by injuries detailed in multiple lawsuits filed after the protests against racist policing in Denver last year. As Dinges unleashed a bullet barrage at Woodall, Floyd kept firing rounds from his shotgun while shouting, "No! This is less-lethal!"

The resulting damage done to Woodall was substantial, but its extent is unclear. "Since Mr. Woodall’s medical records are confidential, there is limited information available regarding the extent of his injuries," the report notes, before adding, "Mr. Woodall sustained gunshot wounds to his abdomen, the back of his arm, and his hip. He sustained internal injuries and underwent at least two surgeries and was released from the hospital after several months."

The "summary of facts" section of the letter begins at 9:33 p.m. last December 8, when police dispatch received a 911 call from a home at 1517 Short Grass Court in Castle Rock. In the exchange that followed, Woodall is quoted as saying, "You need to talk with your mom right now, son, ’cause I ain't doing nothing." In response, a woman identified as Woodall's wife states, "I don't want you in here," followed by "We're having a domestic violence right now."

At that point, the call was cut, and when the dispatcher phoned back, Woodall said, "My wife is giving me a fucking hard time in my own house," while a woman could be heard crying and pleading for police help in the background. At that point, the letter asserts, Woodall said, "Yeah, come on here" and hung up the phone.

A captioned screen capture of James Woodall from the 18th Judicial District decision letter.
A captioned screen capture of James Woodall from the 18th Judicial District decision letter.
18th Judicial District

While officers were en route, family members continued to provide info. One contended that Woodall had a gun, while another wasn't certain — but the sense of alarm was clear. One caller said, "He's fucking trippin'. You guys need to get someone quick here fucking right now. He's either going to hurt my fucking mom or something right now."

Dinges, Godfrey and at least three other officers arrived at the 1500 block of Short Grass Court at 9:40 p.m., as Woodall "emerged onto the roadway" holding "a silver-colored metal object" which several believed was a handgun. At that point, Dinges began yelling, "Show me your hands!" and "Drop the gun!" to which Woodall alternately responded "Fuck you," "Shoot me" and "Fucking shoot me," the letter states. He also took off his shirt and threw it to the ground.

As he drew within 35 yards or so of Woodall, the letter notes, Godfrey "said he believed Mr. Woodall posed an immediate risk to himself and the people in 1517 Short Grass Court if he ran inside the home and to the officers. He explained that at that moment it was his best opportunity to fire his less-lethal shotgun to stop Mr. Woodall. He said the window of opportunity was quickly closing, so he did not announce he was going to fire less-lethal."

The less-than-lethal round struck Woodall's upper body, but "Officer Dinges believed Mr. Woodall was armed with a gun and had shot at the officers (unbeknownst to Officer Dinges, the single gunshot he heard was from Officer Godfrey's less-lethal round)." Then Dinges "fired nine rounds at Mr. Woodall, striking him at least twice. He shot Mr. Woodall once in the upper right arm and once in the abdomen. While Officer Dinges was firing, Officer Godfrey shot an additional three less-lethal rounds" before the gunfire ended.

As Woodall was being transported to the hospital, he reportedly told emergency responders that "he didn't want to hurt anyone" and "wanted to be shot by the cops so he could meet Jesus."

The report acknowledges that Godfrey didn't announce that he was firing his Remington 870 before doing so, but the letter gives him a pass because he "was in a situation where nonviolent methods proved ineffective and the danger was escalating." Furthermore, because "the situation quickly unfolded," the letter concludes that Dinges "did not have time to warn Mr. Woodall that he would fire his gun. Officer Dinges had a split second to assess the situation and defend himself and other officers from another gunshot from Mr. Woodall" — except that Woodall didn't have a gun.

Nonetheless, Chief Deputy DA Oldham concluded: "Based on my review of all of the evidence in this case, I find Officer Godfrey and Officer Dinges complied with all of the Colorado statutes with respect to the use of force by a peace officer."

Woodall has been charged with one count of third-degree assault and one of criminal mischief. He's scheduled to appear at a pre-trial conference at 9:30 a.m. on May 3. Click to read the James Woodall police shooting decision letter.

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