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Man says officer drew weapon at 3 children after caller claimed there was a black man with a gun

The incident happened on May 7 in a Safeway parking lot near 14th and Krameria streets.

DENVER — A man plans to meet with the Denver Police Department (DPD) after he says an officer drew his weapon on his three stepdaughters after a woman told 911 there was a "young black male in a hoodie" sitting in a car with a gun. 

Video showing the May 7 incident was distributed to the media on Wednesday by Naphtali Israel’s attorney, David Lane of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP.

According to a news release from Israel’s attorney, the incident began with a call to 911 from a manager at the Safeway near 14th and Krameria streets. The caller said a customer told her there was a “young black male in a hoodie” sitting in a grey Cadillac with a gun.

Safeway said the customer who asked the store to call police is African American.

In a snippet of the 911 call distributed by both Israel’s attorney and DPD, the manager asked for an officer to do a “drive-by” of the parking lot.

Having a firearm in a vehicle is not illegal in Colorado, according to Lane. 

Israel, who is black, said he had been shopping at the Safeway with his three African-American stepdaughters, ages 14, 7 and 2. 

“I just thought we were going to go to Safeway and shop and I end up walking into a nightmare,” Israel said in an interview with 9NEWS on Wednesday.

The girls picked up some treats and returned to the car while their stepfather continued picking up groceries, according to the news release.

“It was too difficult for me to shop with the two-year-old,” Israel said. “They throw tantrums, want snacks. I decided my 14-year-old should sit in the vehicle and watch the rest of the children while I continue to shop.”

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Later, the release says a DPD sergeant arrived in the parking lot. In a video from the Safeway parking lot, that officer is seen apparently drawing a gun at the car. The doors were open at the time.

“The video shows he had [the children] at gunpoint for around 15 seconds,” Israel’s attorney wrote in the release. “The halo cam video has no audio, but the 14-year-old says that she was ordered to ‘take her [expletive] hands off the steering wheel!’”

“She had her hands on her 2-year-old sister, not the wheel,” the release goes on to say. “When she released her, the 2-year-old crawled out of the car and the sergeant then yelled ‘get that [expletive] kid back into the car!’ She pulled her sister back into the car. The sergeant had his gun pointed directly at the kids for about 15 seconds and did not reholster it for around 2 minutes.”

In a video, Israel's attorneys demonstrated that the Cadillac did not have tinted windows and it was possible to see inside. 

The release says a woman inside the Safeway told Israel what was happening, and he went outside, where he was confronted by officers. Body camera video distributed by Israel’s attorney shows one of them put him in handcuffs, and someone is heard telling him that officers had been told he had a gun.

“What are you even talking about?” Israel is heard saying.

Officers are seen on the video patting Israel down, while he continues to express confusion about the incident. 

“I don’t know what the hell’s going on, I was in there shopping,” he’s heard saying.

Denver Police also provided 9NEWS with extended body camera footage, from two different officers, from this incident.

Officers are later seen releasing Israel. Denver Police confirm they didn’t find any weapons on Israel or in the vehicle.

The release says “police and Safeway spent significant time apologizing.”

"We apologized for the fact that there was obviously some confusion in that he wasn’t the individual who had the weapon,” said DPD Division Chief of Patrol, Ron Thomas. 

"The video I watched, [there was] significant de-escalation being used, efforts to explain what they were doing what they were doing... Explaining the call they received and they were responding to that call."

Thomas said he believes officers responded appropriately to the call they received.

“We believed, based on the report, that there was an individual in that parking lot who possessed a weapon," he said. "Didn’t know why they possessed that weapon, but the fact that there is a weapon potentially present -- we had to take some precautions. You know, being ready to respond to that threat if the threat presented itself. I think the way that sergeant approached the vehicle from behind, engaged the people in that car from a safe position, I think was the appropriate response.”

Police said the officer didn’t point his gun directly at any person but used a tactic called a “low-ready” position upon approaching the car.

“If it was a white male sitting in that vehicle, would he have pulled his gun that fast?,” Israel asked. “It’s very exhausting to have police confront you, in an aggressive manner. To be presumed guilty for something that’s not even a crime. Right? And then it has to be embarrassing for them to find out that I didn’t even have a firearm. That you responded in this manner, pulled your weapon out on children, and there is no reason whatsoever for this to have taken place.”

Credit: Courtesy Courtesy Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP
Body camera video shows Israel being placed into handcuffs outside a Safeway where he had been shopping.

Israel and his fiance, Clarissa Ford, said their three daughters are traumatized by what happened.

“My daughters, they are not doing very well,” Ford said. “All of them are going to therapy. They’re suffering from PTSD. My daughter [doesn’t] sleep very well at night… they have nightmares now.”

The couple also have a newborn at home, which is why Israel said he was handling the grocery run and offered to get the older kids out of the house for bit that day.

Israel's attorney said the department has reached out to see if the family would be interested in meeting to discuss what happened and the video. 

Denver Police said they are investigating what happened.

"It is important for us to look at this and understand why this unfolded and happened the way it did and make sure race had nothing to do with it,” Thomas said. “That [the officers] would have responded in the way they did regardless of how the individual involved was described, or regardless of what they encountered when they got there."

While that meeting has not yet happened, Israel said he would like to have that discussion.

Safeway released the following statement about the video and allegations made by Israel's attorneys: 

“Safeway always has and always will act to ensure the safety and well-being of our customers and associates. In this case, we believe our associate acted responsibly by passing along the information that was reported to them by a concerned customer via the non-emergency 911 call number.  

The concerned customer, who was African-American, reported that they saw someone, also African-American, in a car in the store parking lot with a gun.   The reporting customer was afraid for his safety and the safety of others. The call speaks for itself and this matter was placed in the hands of Denver Police Department.”

This video was released a little more than a week after the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd sparked protests against police brutality across the country, including in Denver, which has seen multiple consecutive nights of demonstrations.

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