Paul Castaway Family Blasts Decision to Deem Shooting Caught on Video Justified

Earlier this year, a bid to recall Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey was inspired in part on his reluctance to criminally charge police officers involved in deadly shootings.

That effort failed. But now, the family of Paul Castaway, a Native American man who was shot and killed by a Denver police officer this past July, is blasting the DA's decision to deem the incident justified in Mother Jones, a publication that is giving the tragic incident national exposure.

The killing of Castaway was captured on surveillance video released by the DA's office along with a decision letter outlining the reasons that Officer Michael Traudt will not be prosecuted. See both below.

On July 12, according to the letter, Lillian Castaway, Paul's mother, was babysitting her grandchildren at her home in a trailer park at 4545 Morrison Road.

That's when Paul, who she believed to be drunk, broke into the residence — she'd previously kicked him out — and poked her in the neck with a knife. Here's a look at the puncture wound, in a photo provided by the DA's office.... well as a pic showing the one-foot-long knife:

After Paul allegedly broke several household items and split, Lillian headed to the nearby Denver Indian Center and dialed 911.

"He's mentally ill and drunk," Lillian told the operator. She added, "Please hurry!" and "I'm so scared!" — and also suggested that her son had been doing meth and was suicidal.

At 6:22 p.m., Traudt, who had been on the force for just over a year, and another officer, Jerry Lara, arrived at the scene, the report continues, and amid their investigation, they spotted Paul.

Here is Traudt's account of what happened next:
He started walking. There's a chain link fence between where our vehicle was and where he was. So I pulled my patrol vehicle up, my fully marked patrol vehicle, and then got out of the car in full uniform. I announced myself as a Denver police officer. I said, "Denver police. Stop!" And he looked at me, he made eye contact with me and my partner, and then he kept walking up the chain-link fence. As I started to close distance between me and him, he took off running southbound along the chain-link fence. I then gave chase, I aired it to dispatch that we were running southbound through the trailer park in the 4500 block of Morrison Road.
Before long, Paul put the knife to his own throat and told Traudt, "Kill me, you fucking pussy," the officer recalled. Traudt said he responded by repeatedly saying, "Drop the knife!"

Instead, Paul ran and Traudt gave chase as neighborhood kids scattered — actions caught on the video released by the DA's office.

What followed was a face-off between Paul, who was still holding the knife to his throat, and Traudt, pointing his service weapon at him. Officer Lara said he was in the midst of transitioning to a TASER when Paul began advancing toward Traudt — at which point Traudt pulled the trigger three times, striking Paul twice. Paul died from gunshot wounds to the torso.

Here's an image from shortly after Traudt fired.... well as photo of the officers securing him:

In the days that followed, Castaway's family staged a protest about the shooting that inspired some tense moments with law enforcers. Here's one image from a video on view below....

...and another.... well as a screen capture showing loved ones holding a photo tribute to Paul.

Did Traudt break any laws by his choice to open fire, as opposed to opting for less lethal force? No, Morrissey believes. Here's his conclusion:
In this investigation, we are, once again, presented with a situation in which police officers are called to deal with someone who is violent, apparently suicidal, and who has an astounding combination of alcohol and controlled substances in his system. As is all too often the case, the actions and decisions of the subject place an officer who is attempting to take the subject into custody or "talk him down" in an untenable situation: a situation where the officer will, in many instances, be driven by the subject's actions to use some degree of physical force or deadly physical force.

In this case, Castaway's decision to turn, confront the officers and deliberately advance toward Officer Traudt, knife in hand, rather than complying with his orders, compelled Officer Traudt to shoot. The surveillance video clearly depicts Castaway moving quickly and purposefully toward Officer Traudt. Castaway's actions and the statements he made suggest he had decided to die and further decided that Officer Traudt would be the instrument of his demise. Officer Traudt's decision to fire his pistol was, under these circumstances, objectively reasonable and appropriate. Indeed, Castaway gave him no other choice. Officer Traudt's actions are justifiable under Colorado Law and, accordingly, I will not file criminal charges against Officer Traudt.
Lillian isn't buying it. In an interview with Mother Jones, which identifies her as Lynn Eagle Feather, she says, "I don't think it's right. Because the Denver Police have been getting away with killing so many young people. Yeah, my son had a knife to his throat, but he was more of a threat to himself than he was to the police.

"I called for help," she goes on.  "I didn't call for a killing. And I can never get my son back."

Below, see three videos — the surveillance footage of the incident, a clip dedicated to the protest, and a subsequent news conference — followed by the complete decision letter.

Paul Castaway Decision Letter.pdf

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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