Law Enforcement

Josh Vigil Police Shooting and Why Body-Cam Video Hasn't Been Released

This photo of Josh Vigil accompanies a petition calling for the release of Colorado Springs Police body-camera footage in his shooting.
This photo of Josh Vigil accompanies a petition calling for the release of Colorado Springs Police body-camera footage in his shooting.
The August 3 shooting of De'Von Bailey by Colorado Springs police officers has received national attention and prompted a call for an independent investigation by Governor Jared Polis, largely because of body-camera video that showed the nineteen-year-old being gunned down from behind as he was fleeing.

But even though Springs cops killed Josh Vigil, 38, a week and a half earlier, on July 23, no such footage of his homicide has been publicly shared. Instead, the main document available is an autopsy report that graphically describes how Vigil died after being shot twenty times.

"They got him in the head, in the chest and the back of the neck," says Vigil's daughter, Brittni Reed. "All three of those are kill shots, but they kept going after that. So I think they haven't released it because they know they were wrong, and they don't want the public to see that they were wrong."

The Colorado Springs Police Department isn't commenting on the case, which remains under investigation, and interview requests on the subject sent to the 4th Judicial District DA's Office, the main investigative agency (as it remains in the Bailey matter, despite Polis's recommendation), haven't been returned at this writing. By Reed's estimate, the prosecutor has until today, September 24, to release the body-camera video based on her family's many requests, but there's no indication if or when it will actually happen.

As for the differences in the way authorities have handled body-camera footage in the two cases, a source who spoke to Westword on the promise of anonymity speculates that the Bailey video was issued because surveillance images of the homicide had already been aired, essentially forcing the hand of prosecutors and police. Under ordinary circumstances, however, investigators tend to wait for months before putting out such video as a way of allowing the original incident to fade from memories and passions to flag before announcing that the shooting has been found justified.

click to enlarge The Fountain Garden apartments, where Josh Vigil was killed. - KOAA.COM
The Fountain Garden apartments, where Josh Vigil was killed.
Neither of these things will happen in regard to her father if Reed has anything to say about it. She acknowledges that Vigil struggled with substance abuse and says that when he was drinking, as he had been doing on the day he was slain, he became "like a different person." (The autopsy also showed that he had methamphetamine and cocaine in his system, but she thinks that may have been from past use.) In her words, "He obviously did some things that he shouldn't have done. But that didn't define him."

Indeed, she calls the father she knew "a hero," and she means the term literally. According to her, Vigil rescued a child stuck inside a burning apartment building when he was in his early teens and prevented an uncle reeling from the loss of two close relatives from taking his own life. Moreover, she goes on, "my house was always full of other people when I was growing up because he opened the door for everyone. No one ever went hungry, no one went without a place to sleep or a place to shower. He had some issues, but he took care of everybody and made sure they were okay."

These roles were reversed on the 23rd, when members of her family tried their best to help Vigil. Reed was with him, by her calculation, "until the last fifteen minutes of his life."

That morning, Reed completed an overnight shift at her job and was heading outside when she found Vigil waiting for her; he wanted her to walk his dog, which she did. When she returned, she remembers seeing a Facebook notification related to the death in Mexico of her aunt, to whom Vigil was extremely close — and she feels this reminder about her passing "brought up some emotions that he didn't really want to deal with." When they got back to her house, he initially seemed fine, only to get "super-angry out of nowhere." He quickly started drinking, and he didn't stop until around 10 a.m., when he finally went to sleep.

Vigil awakened again at around 3:30 p.m., and his behavior continued to be strange, if apparently benign. For instance, he suddenly decided to take off the jewelry he was wearing and give it to Reed and her younger sister before asking to be driven to Monterey Park, across the street from the house where his grandmother once lived. Upon his arrival in the company of Reed, her sister and her mother (later joined by an aunt and uncle), he began reminiscing before suddenly snapping into a rage made even more problematic by the presence of a gun in the vehicle.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office release about the subsequent incident states that Colorado Springs Police Department personnel went to the park at 5:48 p.m. after receiving a report about a suspicious man walking with a gun. Reed says the firearm was on the car, not in his hands, when cops showed up, but the officers still pulled their weapons and trained them at him. "I told them, 'Please don't hurt him. He just needs help,'" Reed remembers.

click to enlarge A family photo of the late Josh Vigil. - FAMILY PHOTO VIA KRDO
A family photo of the late Josh Vigil.
Family photo via KRDO
Around that time, Vigil began screaming that he wanted his keys, and after getting them, he grabbed the gun, got back into the car and drunkenly drove away.

The officers neither fired at Vigil nor moved to immediately pursue him — and he managed to get as far as the intersection of Fountain and Chelton in the Springs before crashing. He then abandoned the ride and headed to the Fountain Garden apartments, a senior-living complex, at 3165 East Fountain Boulevard, where a slew of additional police officers encountered him. Reed doesn't know the exact number, but she's been told that the group included a hostage negotiator as well as an expert in dealing with suicidal individuals or those out of control on drugs — though the shooting seems to have started before they could de-escalate the situation.

It's also unclear to Reed if her father had taken his gun with him after wrecking the car, but she doubts it, and there's no mention of him being armed in the aforementioned EPCSO release. She and the other family members were still at the park, under the watchful eye of the officers who responded to the original call. Still, they were close enough to hear the gunshots, and when Reed heard the loudest of them, part of her knew that her father was dead. But she says police didn't confirm that for well over an hour, after her sister had been taken to an area hospital (a different facility than the one to which Vigil was transported) to treat a series of seizures likely triggered by the trauma.

Reed maintains that in the months since that day, police have not returned many, if not most, of the calls from her and her family asking for more information, including the release of the body-camera footage. She wants answers, and so do Colorado Springs-based attorney Daniel Kay and Mari Newman of Denver's Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP, who are working on behalf of the Bailey family. Both Kay and Newman say that while they haven't formalized a representation agreement with Vigil's loved ones, they're looking into the matter.

For her part, Reed fears that authorities "are going to cover up what happened and make it seem like my dad was a threat to society. And I understand that he looked scary. He was six-foot-two and 200 pounds; he was huge. But as police officers, they should be trained to take down people like that without killing them. Instead, they shot him twenty times, and they're not letting us see the video of what happened."

Click to read the Josh Vigil autopsy report.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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