DENVER — Denver District Attorney Beth McCann announced Thursday afternoon that the officer who shot and killed William Debose in early May was legally justified to use deadly force and will not be charged.
The shooting happened in the 3200 block of West Colfax Avenue in Denver on the evening of May 1.
Denver Police said Debose, 21, pulled out a weapon while officers were chasing him following an attempted traffic stop. Police said a loaded 9mm handgun was found near Debose after he was shot.
McCann said after reviewing the evidence, she believes the officer involved acted in self-defense during the shooting, which lasted less than 10 seconds.
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McCann explained her conclusions in a letter to Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen.
The body camera footage of the incident was also released and can be seen below.
(WARNING: The content in the video is extremely graphic and may be disturbing to viewers.)
Corporal Ethan Antonson and Officer Blake Bishop both drew the weapons on the evening of the shooting, however, only Antonson fired his weapon, according to the letter. He fired his weapon four times, the letter says.
Antonson noted that Debose was running away from him but noticed him "looking right at me" as he ran, which he said, "didn't seem normal," according to the letter. Shortly after, he said he saw "his [Debose's] right hand reach down toward his body," the letter says. Antonson doesn't mention a weapon at this point but said, "He very quickly pulls out and points directly at me," the letter says.
He said he immediately drew his own weapon as he thought in his head, "This guy is going to kill me," the letter says. The decision letter then states, at that moment, [Antonson] said he fired his weapon several times and stopped when he saw Debose fall to the ground.
When asked to describe was what was in Debose's hand, Antonson said, "It was a black object and the only thought in my head was, 'He's going to kill me,'" the letter says.
Antonson also described hearing Debose's weapon fall to the ground, according to the letter. As other officers who arrived handcuffed Debose, Antonson said he noticed blood on Debose's leg, and they began to render aid, the letter states.
Debose later died from his injuries at the hospital. An autopsy report obtained by 9NEWS shows Debose was shot in the chest and leg by Denver police officers. The medical examiner conducting the autopsy concluded that he died from a gunshot wound that injured both his lungs, as well as veins and arteries in his chest.
Antonson also reported, according to the letter, that Debose was wearing a small black pack around his waist.
Bishop also reported that as he ran away, Debose "immediately grabbed his waistband," which he said was "pretty indicative of carrying a weapon." Bishop said he then saw Debose start to bring his arm up and heard several gunshots. Bishop said he was ready to fire, but let go of the trigger when he saw Debose fall to the ground and the weapon fall away from him, the letter says.
In her decision letter, McCann noted that both Bishop and Antonson reported that they saw Debose with a gun, and noted in body camera footage Debose's arms "appear to be at shoulder level consistent with pointing a gun."
McCann also said body camera footage from the officers "clearly captures the sound of Mr. Debose's gun hitting the pavement" and the gun is seen on the ground in the body camera footage from both officers as they approach Debose.
She also noted that Debose's common-law wife, who had been in the car with him prior to the shooting, reported she saw a gun in Debose's black pouch earlier in the day and that both officers reported seeing Debose wearing the black pouch as he ran. McCann also said the weapon recovered at the scene was fully-loaded with a round in the chamber.
In her announcement, McCann said she had asked to meet with family members of Debose before making her decision public, but said they declined the invitation.
“The horrific killing of George Floyd at the hands of police officers has spurred increased calls for justice and close examination of law enforcement and systemic racism in our criminal justice system," McCann said. "I support these efforts and will hold police officers accountable for any criminal actions as I have done in the past and am doing currently (we have a pending case against a Lakewood police officer.) I have and will continue to support Black Lives Matter, and I recognize the immediate need to examine police practices as well as prosecution and judicial practices.
"However, in this case, Corporal Antonson had a reasonable belief that he was defending himself from the imminent use of deadly physical force, and Colorado law allows peace officers to use deadly physical force under these circumstances.”
McCann will hold a community meeting to discuss her conclusions. It will be held online due to the coronavirus pandemic. It's set to take place on Wednesday, June 24, from 5:30-7 p.m. The public is invited to join that meeting by clicking here.
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