Denver police shooting in LoDo caused most injuries of any Colorado police shooting since at least 2010, data shows

Jay Seastrunk was celebrating a friend’s birthday when Denver police opened fire as hundreds of people poured out of bars on Larimer Street early Sunday morning.

He saw the officers approach a man who had been involved in a fight, but said he didn’t hear any warning before the bullets started flying. A woman bleeding heavily from her leg dropped to the ground right next to him outside the Larimer Beer Hall. He grabbed his girlfriend and fled.

“I’ve been feeling very grateful that I’m alive,” he said. “I never thought that I’d be grateful that the police didn’t shoot me.

“I’ve kind of been boiling,” he continued. “My blood is boiling.”

Seastrunk was one of dozens of people who witnessed Denver police shoot a man they allege pointed a gun at them and strike five bystanders with bullets and shrapnel — a shooting that has raised questions about how police should act in large crowds.

The incident around 1:30 a.m. Sunday at 20th and Larimer streets is the police shooting with the most people injured in Colorado since at least 2010, when the state started collecting data on shootings by law enforcement officers.

“By definition, that is a mass shooting,” Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca said. “We would call it that if it were a civilian who did the shooting.”

Data collected by the Colorado Department of Public Safety shows that the incident with the second-highest number of injuries occurred in 2013 when Denver police shot two men — killing one — and one of the men shot a Denver police sergeant during an extensive pursuit and shootout. Two other people were injured but not shot: One man was bitten by a police dog and a woman was injured in the crash that ended the pursuit, according to a review of the incident by the district attorney.

There is no comprehensive national database of non-fatal police shootings. That’s a problem, researchers say, because it makes it difficult to analyze all incidents in which police decided to use lethal force.

The difference between a fatal police shooting and a non-fatal one is often as simple as a bullet missing an organ by an inch, said John Shjarback, an assistant professor at Rowan University who studies policing.

“Does this happen with regularity in America?” asked Justin Nix, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha who studies police. “We don’t know because we don’t have the data.”

Denver police have said that a man named Jordan Waddy pointed a gun at officers and that three officers fired at him. Waddy, 21, did not fire his weapon, they said.

Police injured Waddy and five others. They are all expected to survive. All three officers are on administrative leave while Denver police, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Colorado State Patrol and the Denver District Attorney’s Office investigate their actions.

Waddy faces charges of felony menacing and possession of a weapon by a previous offender.

No warning from police, witnesses say

Multiple witnesses who spoke to The Denver Post said that they did not hear any warning before police fired their guns in crowded Lower Downtown.

Dana Velazquez was standing with friends in line for a food truck across the street from Larimer Beer Hall when she saw police approach a man. The man was walking away from them when they shot him, she said. She heard at least five gunshots.

“Obviously they didn’t have any regard for the bystanders around,” she said. “There was no warning.”

She and her friends froze in their panic.

“That could’ve been us on the other side of the street,” she said. “It was really hard to watch. I’ve never seen someone get shot and then spew blood on the ground. That’s not how I wanted my night to end.”

The night immediately turned to chaos after the shooting, Seastrunk said. People fell to the ground and were trampled by others running away. Some people in the parking lot next to the beer hall held bloody arms.

“How can they possibly think it’s OK to spray bullets into a crowd like that?” he said. “I can’t imagine that’s part of their regular training. Honestly, I’m exhausted and fed up. This kind of stuff cannot happen. It’s completely insane and nonsensical. It can’t happen, especially by professionals who are supposed to be keeping us safe. Instead, they’re causing chaos and hysteria.”

Denver’s lethal force policy

Denver police policy states that officers can use lethal force only when other options are unreasonable and the suspect poses an immediate threat to someone and “the force employed does not create a substantial risk of injury to other persons.” The policy also prohibits officers from firing their guns “where there is likelihood of serious injury to persons other than the person to be apprehended.”

There is no national standard for policies about shooting in crowded areas, Shjarback said.

“It’s a little ironic because following the protests and unrest in 2020, there were a lot of bad examples out there of police using indiscriminate force on crowds, like with bean bag rounds,” he said. “You would think that a true learning organization would take a look at some of those incidents and look at their own policies, but it doesn’t seem like that was done. And the same principles apply — you’re trying to act in a way that is more surgically precise.”

Officers have to balance the threat someone might pose to others with the dangers of their own actions, Nix said.

“Obviously, shooting into a crowded street, you might shoot the person you’re shooting at, you might hit someone else, there might be ricochet, there might be fragments,” he said. “It’s got to be part of the calculus.”

The Denver Police Department’s policy severely restricting officers from shooting at moving vehicles is lauded as one of the best in the country, Shjarback said. But the department’s policy is less detailed about crowd scenarios.

“There’s very little about other scenarios, even though the rationale is the same: you’re responsible for your bullets,” he said.

Regardless of what was happening, firing bullets into a crowd of people does not seem like the best police response, CdeBaca said.

“I hope that this is an opportunity for people to see that there are major changes that need to happen,” she said. “We cannot have a situation where the most highly trained individuals in fighting crime shoot wildly into a crowd of innocent people. That is unacceptable. That is not law enforcement, that is not public safety.”

Little information released

CdeBaca on Monday called on the police department to immediately release body camera footage and video from a nearby city-owned surveillance camera.

The Department of Public Safety on Tuesday denied a records request for the footage filed on her behalf by a city attorney. The department also denied a request for the footage by The Post, citing the ongoing investigation into the shooting.

Department officials did not release any new information about the shooting Monday or Tuesday nor did they answer questions sent by The Post on Sunday, including asking how many rounds the officers fired, whether the officers issued commands before firing and when they would release video of the incident.

A public safety official said the department was planning a briefing for Wednesday.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement that he is respecting the investigative process and declined to comment further on the shooting before that investigation is complete.

The Post reached out to all of Denver’s City Council members to ask for interviews about the shooting. CdeBaca was the only one who responded.

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