If A Cop Shoots You In Colorado When No One Is Around, Does Anyone Hear You Scream?

If A Cop Shoots You In Colorado When No One Is Around, Does Anyone Hear You Scream?

Stopping The Bloodshed: How Colorado's Police Brutality Legislation Will Set A National Standard.

CultureOctober 19, 2022 By Anton Sawyer

Almost every American has THE ONE.

By this I mean, the one case of police brutality that changed everything. Except for those who party with Q on the far right, each of us has caught a glimpse of power gone mad at some point that hit us right in the guts. This visceral reaction cascaded down our being and changed our entire dynamic of what law enforcement truly is any longer.

For some, it was the officers that beat Rodney King to a bloody pulp. To others, those who murdered George Floyd immediately come to mind. Regardless of race, color, gender, etc. watching a cop abuse their power on ANY citizen is witnessing inhumanity at its finest. Because of how long these kinds of crimes have been headline fodder, the masses calling for police accountability is nothing new. And during the exact duration of these cries, we've gotten the same response: nothing.

That is until Colorado and SB-217 came about in 2021.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Before I go into the Colorado legislation that could help shape the rest of the nation in a more positive fashion when it comes to police accountability, I feel that some context is needed. Spoiler alert: when looking at the numbers associated with police brutality (whether locally or nationally), you see the same grotesqueries appear time and time again. 

Nationwide, police are getting away with (literal) murder in stunning amounts. Law enforcement officers kill about 1,000 people a year across the United States. Between 2005 and 2021, 121 officers were arrested on charges of murder or manslaughter in on-duty killings, according to data compiled by Philip M. Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Of the 95 officers whose cases have concluded, 44 were convicted, but often of a lesser charge, he said. This means out of approximately 16,000 murders caused by police officers over 16 years, only 44 ended up being convicted.  

These numbers are unacceptable and lead to the question of “how can this happen?”

Unsurprisingly, two of the biggest culprits when it comes to a lack of accountability for those who can legally carry deadly weapons come from our nation’s leaders. One is from our judiciary in the concept of qualified immunity. The other is found in congressional inaction.

Most Americans understand qualified immunity from the SCOTUS ruling in Brennan V Dawson, which says, “For a right to be clearly established, the law must be sufficiently clear, at the time of the officer’s alleged conduct, ‘that every reasonable official would understand that what he was doing was unlawful.’” Unfortunately, the concept of “reasonable” as a court could view something was kind of shot to hell earlier with the lack of convictions and appropriate judicial oversight when it comes to police officers accused of manslaughter or the like. This interpretive-laden verbiage is such to where law enforcement is almost always exonerated whenever it comes to any legal infraction that could coincide within the zip code of the justification, “during the line of duty.”

It's this level of politicking that leads me to who the other culprit is when it comes to shielding the police from accountability: congress. Or, more accurately, congressional inaction.

The "Invest To Protect Act," introduced by Democrat Representative of New Jersey Josh Gottheimer, is the perfect illustration of a bad bill with zero teeth regarding police accountability. In it, the bill would allocate federal grants to local law enforcement agencies that have fewer than 125 officers.  However, it doesn't include basic measures to ensure accountability toward those officers. This lack of accountability found in the bills’ contents was unpalatable to many. So much so that House Democrats Cori Bush of Missouri, Jamaal Bowman of New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan all voted against it. Though their reasons were varied, overall there was one sentiment that was most loudly voiced by Bush, and one that seemed to have been shared by all.

“Even the most barebones accountability measures like those included in the House-passed Justice in Policing Act were not incorporated into the Representative Gottheimer bill, which would add nearly a quarter billion dollars in police funding over the next 5 years without addressing the crisis of police brutality—and this despite the strong and continued urging from civil rights and racial justice advocacy leaders to chart a more humane path."

That's a lot of cash without the guarantee of some kind that the aforementioned police violence will be directly dealt with.

Ultimately, the chamber passed the rule in a 216-215-1 vote.

So now that we’ve covered the nation as a starting point, how do Colorado’s numbers fare?

Not good in some ways, but much better in others.

The bad news is that Colorado’s deadly police shooting rate is one of the nation’s highest across several metrics. Colorado is among the nation’s top five for police shootings in three areas: total fatalities, average fatalities per year, and fatality rate. Between 2015 and 2021, police shot and killed 224 people. This breaks down to 6.05 fatal police shootings per year per 1 million residents—the fifth-highest rate in the country.

One specific example of a Colorado failure when it comes to law enforcement oversight for violence that took place during this time—both in 2016 and 2020—comes from the treatment of Officer Greg Dulayev. As lawsuits go, Dulayev’s are disturbingly … “impressive?” One of them was filed by a homeless man who said he was tasered in 2016 while he was unarmed and trying to comply with the officer’s orders. The second and third lawsuits come from a demonstration where he was accused of ramming his baton into a man’s anus and accusations from a woman that include the officer hitting her in the neck with his baton.

Eventually, legislative action was taken.

The facts surrounding events like these caused Democratic Governor Jared Polis to sign SB-217 into law in 2020, going into effect in 2021. This law puts greater rules around police use of force, prohibits the use of chokeholds in arrests, and makes it a crime for officers to observe misconduct on the job without reporting it. The law also makes it easier for civilians to sue officers personally for wrongdoing. 

Though a full analytics report on the numbers since its enactment hasn’t been released, there have been some good examples showing how its passage has allowed for far more evil wrongdoers behind the badge to get their just desserts. Someone like Aurora Police Officer Francine Martinez. Martinez was charged with failure to intervene and failure to report use of force after video footage appeared to show her standing by while her colleague, Officer John Haubert, beat and attempted to strangle 29-year-old Kyle Vinson while placing him under arrest on July 23, 2021. Haubert resigned from APD and faces felony assault charges for the incident. None of the cases have been decided as of publication. Coincidentally, none of the cases ever would have come about had it not been for the newer law.

Plus, within the first year of SB-217’s implementation, district attorneys filed seven charges across the state against five officers for failure to intervene and failure to report the use of force. This is according to a Colorado Public Radio News survey of all 22 state judicial districts and analysis of data from the state judicial branch.

Though I am typically pessimistic, the initial indicators of the law do cast a sliver of sunshine on the whole mess.

I know it may seem contrary to the way I presented the information today, but I have to admit that I’m not one of those who believe we should “defund” the police. They are too far ingrained in our tax structures, and to say that every cop is an evil one and we should therefore cut all economic assistance would be absurd. Having been through my own run-ins with the law when I was younger, I’ve dealt with both sides of the coin and can attest that there are good officers out there who are truly doing their best. But the numbers don’t lie, and I think Representative Bush has the right idea. To allocate millions of taxpayer dollars towards a group that has repeatedly shown systemic infractions when it comes to the rights of the people also seems just as absurd.