The wide-reaching Colorado police accountability bill nearing passage in the state legislature would ban officers from using controversial carotid pressure holds, which were central to the death last year of a 23-year-old man in Aurora after an encounter with law enforcement.
The ban on the maneuver, in which officers apply pressure to both sides of someone’s neck, cutting off blood flow, was added to Senate Bill 217 in an amendment made just before midnight on Wednesday as the measure advanced at the Capitol.
The Aurora and Lakewood police departments this week already announced they were outlawing the use of carotid pressure holds. Elijah McClain died in August after he was stopped by Aurora police officers, who used a carotid hold on him.
There were 13 total amendments made to the bill on Wednesday night, some of which add substantial new reporting and policy requirements for law enforcement agencies. The amendments would require:
- Grand juries to issue a report when they decide not to indict an officer in a law enforcement-involved death
- Prosecutors to notify the public if they are referring an investigation into a law enforcement-involved death to a grand jury
- That families of those killed by law enforcement receive an advanced copy of any body camera footage of their loved one’s death before it is released to the public
- Police to document and report every time officers unholster their weapons or fire them
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Some of the changes made Wednesday night were around the use of body cameras, which the bill requires every law enforcement agency in the state to use. Among the alterations are mandates that officers notify crime victims they are being recorded and clarifying that jail guards, courtroom officers and the governor’s Colorado State Patrol detail do not need to wear the devices.
Law enforcement, under the bill, would now have 45 days to release body camera footage related to an ongoing investigation into a police officer’s actions, up from 30 days as was originally written in the measure.
Finally, officers would be required to test their body cameras at the beginning of the shift. If the devices don’t work after being checked, the bill now says, officers would not be held accountable if they malfunction during an incident.
Additionally, law enforcement agencies would have until September to train their officers on the changes proposed under the bill, though that timeframe could be extended.
Senate Bill 217 passed out of the House Finance Committee on Wednesday night by a 7-4, party line vote after hours of emotional testimony, including from the parents of people who were killed by police officers in Colorado.
Laura Sonia Rosales, whose 17-year-old daughter, Jessica, was fatally shot by Denver police in 2015, told lawmakers that a part of her heart died when her child was killed. Jessica, who was driving a stolen car, was unarmed and with several other children.
“My life is gone,” Sonia Rosales said in Spanish.
Viola Jacquez, whose 27-year-old son, Jack, was killed by a police officer in Rocky Ford in 2014, urged lawmakers to take action. Jack was unarmed and hadn’t committed a crime. The officer who killed him, James Ashby, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to a prison term.
“I feel for every mother out there that feels like me,” Viola said. “It doesn’t go away, even though they say it’s supposed to get better. It gets worse. The pain. The hurt.”
Senate Bill 217 will likely be heard on the House floor Thursday. More changes to the legislation are expected.
Republicans on the House Finance Committee said they support the goals of the measure, but have concerns about policy details they hope will be worked out in the coming days. GOP lawmakers in the Senate have already endorsed the bill.
Law enforcement organizations say they, too, support the bill, but would like to see changes before its passage.
The legislation also would allow police officers to be sued in their individual capacities, ban chokeholds and require vast data collection and reporting on race and use of force. It also would change the standard under which law enforcement can legally use deadly force.
The Senate must approve the changes made in the House before the measure heads to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk. The governor says he supports the legislation.
The bill was brought by Democrats in response to the May 27 death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Floyd died after an officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes in an encounter that was filmed and widely viewed.
The death prompted protests across the nation, including in Denver.