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Red Rocks shooting: Jeffco sheriff's office on illegal-search claims, hunt for gunman

We've been reporting about a triple shooting at Red Rocks last week in which hip-hop artist Schoolboy Q was the likely target. Two Westword writers were caught in the delays that followed the incident, including our Bree Davies, who says she didn't get out of the area until 2:30 a.m. and was only allowed to do so after she was asked to step out of her car so that it could be searched.

We asked Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley to take us through the incident step by step, and her account differs substantially from the one Davies offers.

"At 2227 -- right about 10:30 -- we received our first call in reference to shots fired in the Red Rocks Park area," Kelley says about the incident, which took place near the Red Rocks Trading Post outside the amphitheater. "Initially, Denver police were on scene because Denver actually works events at that venue. So Denver had a response already in place and private security they use for those concerts was already there, too.

"When the call went out, more Denver police officers responded, and there was also a large response from the Jeffco sheriff's office. And in the next few minutes, officers from Lakewood, the CSP [Colorado State Patrol] and Morrison arrived -- and also Denver Mountain Parks."

Kelley doesn't have a precise number of law enforcers on scene but describes the gathering as "an extremely large law-enforcement response."

From the moment of their arrival, Jeffco sheriff's reps "had several issues on the plate -- one of which was the initial report saying this was likely an active shooter at the park during the concert," Kelley continues. "Those are words you never want to hear -- and Denver's initial response was to close down the entrances and the exits to the park in the event that we needed to set up a perimeter.

"The concert was still going on. Schoolboy Q was done, but he wasn't the last performer of the evening. And what we know now is that many people had no idea the shooting even occurred. The concert was loud enough that the shots weren't heard unless you were in the direct vicinity. And we didn't want to stop the concert for this incident. It didn't get over until about midnight, and after the access routes to the park were blocked off, there wasn't a tremendous impact, because a lot of people weren't really coming and going yet. There was some traffic, since not everybody stays for every performer, but not as much as when the concert was over."

Another factor: A major gate to Red Rocks has been closed for construction, putting additional stress on the other routes. The closed gate "was still manned by the police, and there were a few people who meandered down there not knowing they couldn't get out that way," Kelley reveals. "So it was good the officers were there."

Even under the best circumstances, "you have major congestion when a concert's over," Kelley concedes. "That's just something you know you're going to deal with, particularly at Red Rocks. But we certainly slowed people down, no question."

Continue for more of our interview with Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley about the shooting at Red Rocks, including additional photos. At the same time roads were being closed at Red Rocks Park, "Denver police were following a vehicle at a high rate of speed," says Kelley about the white SUV in which Schoolboy Q and his companions occupied when shots rang out. "Initially, DPD was in pursuit of that vehicle trying to get it stopped and not knowing what its role was. And they got enough units at 6th and Kalamath that they were able to conduct a felony stop. They had guns drawn and ordered people from the vehiclle -- and now we know that there were three wounded victims and two additional people who weren't wounded, Schoolboy Q being one of those. And the two who weren't wounded were put in handcuffs until we could determine what officers were dealing with at the scene. But they weren't kept in handcuffs for long. It was quickly ascertained that it was the victims' vehicle and they needed a medical response. So they called emergency to the scene and the victims were transported to Denver Health."

Back at the park, Kelley says, "we received information from DPD about reports of a black male with an assault rifle who was reportedly running through the area. But once we had confirmation that three people had sustained gunshot wounds, more units came to the area. And Air One" -- the Denver Police Department's helicopter -- "was up as well, giving us a point of view from the sky.

"Initially, we weren't certain about what we believe now -- that this was more of a targeted event than a random act. But that evening, we had to think more globally about the situation and we didn't know the shootings were isolated to that one vehicle. So there was a need to check for additional victims who were in a position where they couldn't identify themselves because of their injuries. So there were sweeps of the parking lots in that area to see if anyone else had been injured in the gunfire. But no additional victims were found."

The arrival of more personnel gave law enforcers additional options, Kelley allows. "Once we had enough people in the area, we started to follow up reports that the black male had fled down a ravine. We were checking the ravines and the outpost areas to see if someone was hiding. We didn't know if this person was hiding in the rocks or was in a vehicle attempting to leave. There were lots of possibilities and it wouldn't have been fair for us to assume that there was only one shooter and he'd acted alone."

According to Kelley, "there were no independent searches of vehicles. We were doing those in teams of law-enforcement responders. They were checking lots for anyone who might be laying down inside of a car or anyone who might be wounded and not able to let us know they were hurt. So we did visual checks of vehicles as we were walking through the lot -- and I'm not aware of any vehicles being searched. No glove boxes, no purses, no trunks."

Indeed, Kelley says Davies's story of being asked to step out of her car so it could be searched is the first she's heard -- and she makes it clear that officers were specifically told not to take such actions. "Those weren't the orders," she stresses. Continue for more of our interview with Jefferson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley about the shooting at Red Rocks, including additional photos. Once the concert was over, Kelley says, "people began to move to their cars and made their way to the exit. And we did visual checks of vehicles at what were basically checkpoints as people were leaving."

As a result, some vehicles were visually checked twice -- once in lots before most concert-goers had left the amphitheater and again at the checkpoints. Kelley acknowledges that there was no way to keep track of which ones had already been eyeballed and which were being seen for the first time.

Meanwhile, Kelley goes on, "we interacted with some people in cars who were willing to share their perspective on what they saw or heard. And we wrote down the license plate number of every vehicle leaving."

The description of the shooter was extremely vague: a black male in dark clothing who stood approximately six feet in height. Literally hundreds of concert-goers may have fit these general outlines -- and with that in mind, Kelley says officers used other criteria to look for suspects. "We had to be concerned that this suspect may have taken someone hostage in their vehicle as they were leaving to try to get out of that situation. So we were looking for someone who might be driving in a way that would cue us they were under duress.

"It was a difficult situation for law enforcement and for the people coming out of the concert. But we err on the side of caution when public safety is paramount -- and that was an inconvenience to people leaving. I'm sure it took longer than they would have liked."

How much longer is a matter of debate. The records Kelley was able to access suggest that most if not all of the lines of traffic were cleared between 1:30 and 2 a.m., with those who lingered longer doing so by choice rather than because they simply couldn't get out of the area. (There were also some dead car batteries.) She expresses surprise that Davies says she was trapped until 2:30 a.m.

At this writing, no suspect has been identified or apprehended, but Kelley says information collected on the night of the show is proving useful to investigators, although she can't elaborate at this time.

Jeffco sheriff's office personnel are also analyzing the overall police response, and as of now, she gives all involved positive grades.

"There's no perfect response to what appeared that night to be an active shooter targeting victims at a concert," she says. "In that situation, there's a need for a very swift response for public safety reasons, and there were great efforts taken at an incredibly challenging outdoor venue with thousands of people. So we feel good about our response."

Not everyone agrees. Kelley has seen what she calls "a small number of people who have been very vocal on social media about illegal searches and being detained illegally -- and we'll have to make sure we didn't violate anyone's rights. We're certainly not aware that we did."

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Thus far, Kelley emphasizes that no formal complaints have been filed -- "but if someone feels victimized, we want them to come forward. We want to hear about their experience. If there's something we need to be made aware of in that chaotic situation, we want to hear about it."

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Follow That Story archive circa June 24: "Red Rocks shooting: Westword's Bree Davies on search, lack of info and being trapped for hours."

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