The August 3 fatal police shooting of nineteen-year-old De'Von Bailey in Colorado Springs focused new attention on body-camera video, with the late teen's family calling out authorities for releasing edited material they say has been doctored to support the law enforcement narrative of events rather than sharing raw footage.
This complaint definitely resonates with Susan Holmes. She's been making similar arguments ever since her nineteen-year-old son, Jeremy Holmes, nineteen, was killed by police near Colorado State University's campus just over two years ago. In late 2018, she filed suit against CSU over the shooting, but her demand wasn't for cash. Instead, she requested transparency, calling on the court to, among other things, compel the university to release unedited video related to the case, including body-camera footage from an officer who responded to the scene but didn't fire her weapon.
This summer, Larimer County district court sided against Susan, determining that the CSU police department was within its rights to withhold the footage in question. Dell Rae Ciaravola, risk and public safety communications manager for CSU, responded to the decision via email, writing, "We feel that the judge’s ruling speaks for itself and don’t have additional comments."
Susan couldn't immediately share her thoughts because she was emotionally unready to read the judgment, which came down within days of Jeremy's birthday, July 27. Now, however, she's speaking up again. She castigates authorities for only putting out selected, edited video and, much like Bailey's family, she argues that they're doing so in order to prevent the truth about Jeremy's death from being exposed. She's gearing up for a full-court press to get a Colorado legislator to sponsor a bill she's dubbed the Jeremy Holmes Act, which states: "Disclosure of body-worn audio and/or video recordings in homicides by police must be released within five days of public request."
The document, which is accessible below along with Susan's original lawsuit, adds "The right to inspect and copy shall include the right to be provided an unredacted, original copy of the body camera video footage."
In the weeks prior to his death, on July 1, 2017, Jeremy, whom Susan has characterized as "an insightful, brilliant person" with a knack for computer-game design, had such a bad reaction to marijuana that she believes he was suffering from an exceedingly rare condition known as cannabis-induced psychosis. Suddenly, he was having uncommon mood swings and making violent threats against his older brother, Alex, who lived in an apartment on the CSU campus. He'd never previously owned a weapon, but Jeremy obtained a knife three days before his death, ostensibly to protect the family following an attempted break-in on the porch of the Fort Collins-area home he shared with Susan.
These issues came to a head on the 1st, when Jeremy became upset that Alex had told him not to visit; Susan said her older son had received several "strange" phone calls from Jeremy when he was in the midst of a major project. Shortly thereafter, an obviously depressed Jeremy, who Susan thinks had smoked more marijuana, picked up the knife, which was covered by a sheath, and headed on foot to Alex's apartment, located about two miles from his residence, after saying he was angry and wanted to kill him.
Immediately thereafter, Susan called Alex, who lived at the apartment with his wife, but she didn't get an answer. So she phoned the CSU campus police and asked for an officer to be dispatched to Alex's place to warn him and her daughter-in-law not to answer the door if Jeremy arrived. Susan specifically recalls telling the operator that Jeremy was mentally ill.
CSU police officer Katie Aron was sent to Alex's apartment and spoke to him and his wife there. Her body-camera footage is what Susan wanted released, in part because she conveyed the situation in a mental health context.
Also captured in Aron's video: the moment during her conversation with the couple when she heard a scream and ran off to what turned out to be the scene of the shooting.
Jeremy was indeed nearby, but he never went to Alex's apartment. Instead, he was walking along Prospect Road, on the far side of a six-foot-tall fence that separated him from his brother's place. At that point, Jeremy had the knife in his hand, but he hadn't threatened anyone or done anything wrong.
Nonetheless, CSU Police Department Corporal Phil Morris drove up to Jeremy and confronted him with a gun. Jeremy responded with suicidal statements, asking Morris to kill him. Morris yelled at him to drop the knife, but instead, Jeremy continued holding the weapon as he walked toward the officer, who backed up in response. Seconds later, Fort Collins Police Services officer Erin Mast arrived at the scene, executing a U-turn in her vehicle and emerging from behind the wheel with her gun drawn to issue her own order that Jeremy release his grip on the knife. This time, he reacted by moving more strongly toward Morris, prompting both officers to open fire.
Here's a portion of Corporal Morris's body-camera video. Warning: The contents may disturb some readers.
On November 16, 2017, law enforcers let Susan see what was described to her as unredacted body-camera footage from all three officers, including a clip from Aron that, in her view, showed Morris completely losing control as her son lay dying. In her words, "All of his blood is flowing out — he's bleeding out right there on camera — and the officer is still pointing his gun at him and screaming at him to drop his knife."
The public never got a chance to watch this footage. In the end, edited versions of the Morris and Mast body-cam videos were shared, but not the Aron material. Based on her memory, Susan believes that even the material that was released is different in various ways from what she saw.
"The front end of Morris's video given to the media is completely altered," she maintains. "It deletes the part where Morris drives up parallel to Jeremy, who is walking on the sidewalk, and then jumps out of his car with his gun pointing at Jeremy. He is within a few feet of Jeremy when he confronts him walking down the street."
Susan also contends that the released version of the video appears to have a different audio mix than what she heard in November 2017. She thinks the department tinkered with the volume of Jeremy's voice and argues that tweaks were also made to the recording of her initial phone call to the CSU police.
And that's not to mention his final outcry. "Jeremy screamed prior to being shot to death," Susan reiterates. "My older son, my daughter-in-law and Officer Katie Aron heard that scream. That's when Officer Aron ran out of the door of my son's apartment. The scream was very loud and came from a distance. Where is the scream in the video? My daughter-in-law told me about Jeremy's scream and the gun shots on the phone and then she told me that she was afraid that they had killed Jeremy."
These assertions made their way into Susan's court presentation, which she's preserved online under the name Jeremy Holmes Justice. The site's document page includes a guidebook from a body-camera manufacturer that includes instructions about editing and motions related to federal rules pertaining to digital evidence.
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The court ruled against Susan anyhow, and thus far, Colorado politicians haven't shown much interest in the Jeremy Holmes Act. Last legislative session, she pitched several representatives and senators, but none of them took up the cause. So she's preparing to broaden her approach to include even more legislators.
Her timing may be good, given the furor over Bailey's shooting and the call for unedited body-camera video to be released. Reverend Promise Lee, a spokesperson for the late nineteen-year-old's family, is also demanding an independent investigation of Bailey's death, and among those who think that's a good idea is Colorado Governor Jared Polis. Susan echoes these views.
"I am a believer that the police should not be investigating the police," she says. "Why? Because of my case — and what happened to my son."