Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday met privately with the family of a 19-year-old Colorado Springs man fatally shot by police in August and the family’s attorneys.
In the weeks after the shooting, Polis called for an independent investigation to be voluntarily conducted into the killing of De’Von Bailey, who was shot by officers responding to reports of a robbery.
Body camera footage of the shooting shows officers trying to search Bailey before he takes off running. Officers then fired their guns at him.
“I personally believe Colorado Springs residents would be best served by an independent review of the events surrounding De’Von Bailey’s death,” Polis said in a statement released in August. “An independent review would ensure the public’s confidence in the results, and maintain trust in law enforcement going forward.”
Polis encouraged prosecutors in El Paso County to consider “turning the investigation’s findings over to another local jurisdiction for independent review and, if warranted, additional information gathering.”
Bailey was hit by bullets in his back and elbow. Officers found a handgun in his shorts.
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Polis’ call for a third-party probe was a request, but the Democrat also has the ability to issue an executive order forcing an independent investigation. That independent investigation would be undertaken by a statewide law enforcement agency, like the Colorado Bureau of Investigation or Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
Mari Newman, an attorney for Bailey’s family, says she and her clients are pushing for the governor to sign an executive order prompting an independent investigation. “He did not commit to an executive order,” she said, but noted that he promised to call Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers to talk about the case.
Newman said Polis told the Bailey family he has already spoken once with Suthers about the shooting.
Newman said she was encouraged by the meeting and that Polis was receptive to the group’s concerns about how fatal police encounters are investigated in Colorado in general.
“He expressed his condolences to members of the Bailey family, some of whom were there in person, some on the phone,” she said. “… Gov. Polis has shown real leadership in both publicly calling for an independent investigation and taking time to meaningfully discuss these really important rights for the families that are victims of police-abuse killings.”
Newman is known for her work on civil rights cases involving allegations of police abuse, and she said the meeting with the governor was “unusual,” noting that she couldn’t remember another time that a governor in Colorado had met with one of her clients who was the fatal victim of alleged police abuse.
“It wasn’t like a little in-and-out kind of thing,” she said. “It was a meaningful meeting. He was engaged.”
Newman said she did not ask for the meeting. The Bailey family is also represented by another lawyer, as well.
“This was a private meeting between the governor and the family and the governor offered his personal condolences to the parents,” Polis’ spokesman, Conor Cahill, said in a written statement. “No matter the circumstances, nothing is harder than losing a son or daughter. The most important thing right now is to help the Bailey family deal with the grief and allow the community to go forward.”
Polis’ office did not address a question about his thinking on an executive order forcing an independent investigation.
Bailey’s family also approached Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser at a town hall in Colorado Springs recently and asked him to intervene in the case. Weiser told them that unless he is asked by the governor to intervene, he doesn’t have the authority to get involved in the case.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and El Paso County District Attorney’s Office are investigating the shooting, as per Colorado Springs Police Department policy. In Colorado, neighboring and sometimes overlapping jurisdictions are tasked with investigating each other’s use of force.
Suthers earlier blasted Polis’ call for an independent investigation, saying the request appeared “politically motivated” and could have the effect of undermining the will of the people since it would mean the recusal of the elected district attorney.
“(Polis) does not take the position that every district attorney in every judicial district in Colorado, including Denver, Boulder and Pueblo, should recuse themselves from making decisions in officer involved shootings in their districts,” Suthers, a Republican and Colorado’s former attorney general, said in a written statement released in August.
A spokeswoman for Suthers said on Thursday that the mayor does not have any authority to call for the El Paso County district attorney, Dan May, to recuse himself from the case.
“An order can be made by the governor or the (attorney general) to take a DA off the case, so certainly that decision would lie at the state level, and not in the mayor’s office,” said Jamie Fabos, the spokeswoman.
On Friday, the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office announced it will refer the investigation into the Bailey shooting to a grand jury.