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Denver police ahead of protesters in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood on Saturday, June 6, 2020. (Jesse Paul. The Colorado Sun)

A total of six bystanders were injured early Sunday after police shot at an armed man near a bar in lower downtown Denver, police said Wednesday as they provided details on the incident for the first time amid growing scrutiny.

The officers fired a total of seven rounds in the shooting that erupted outside Larimer Beer Hall and near food vendors, Cmdr. Matt Clark said during a news conference at Denver police headquarters.

The six people, three women and three men, have been released from the hospital and are recovering at home, Clark said.

It was the first news conference since the Sunday shooting, which raised questions about the department’s protocols when shooting in a crowded area.

The bystanders’ injuries range from superficial cuts and graze wounds to more serious arm and leg injuries, Clark said.

Police initially reported five people were injured. On Tuesday, another man contacted the department to report he drove himself to the hospital after suffering a minor chest injury from the incident, Clark said.

“We are deeply concerned for those that were injured during the incident and are working to provide all available resources and support them as they heal,” Clark said. 

The shooting happened about 1:30 a.m. at the bustling intersection of 20th and Larimer streets, which is surrounded by nightclubs and food vendors. Police said three officers fired at a man who was standing in front of Larimer Beer Hall after he appeared to pull a gun from his hoodie jacket pocket and point it toward them.

The officers fired a total of seven rounds, wounding the suspect, identified as 21-year-old Jordan Waddy, Clark said. 

Waddy, who did not fire his handgun, remains in the hospital and is being treated for multiple gunshot wounds. Clark said Waddy’s injuries are not life-threatening. 

Clark said the investigation into the shooting is in its early stages and will ultimately be reviewed by the Office of Independent Monitor who will then present it to a use of force board. 

“Did something go wrong? Yes, it’s people additionally that shouldn’t have been injured got injured that night,” Clark said. “So we’re going to make sure we support them to get the resources that they need as they continue to heal and then we’ll look internally to see what we can do differently.” 

Yekalo Weldehiwet, 26, said he was in downtown Denver with his fiancee, celebrating her brother’s 23rd birthday and was walking near the beer hall when he heard a shot fired.  

He ducked his head and started to run toward the parking lot. That’s when he heard the second shot and what he said felt like a baseball flying at 100 mph slam into his right biceps. His arm “turned into a noodle” and he used his left hand to prop it up.

At first he didn’t realize a bullet struck him, but then he saw a large amount of blood gushing from his arm, he said. Doctors later told him that the bullet went through his biceps and shattered his humerus bone.

He got inside an ambulance with two women who both were shot in the leg.

During an interview with police at the hospital, Weldehiwet said he asked if the shooter was caught and police told him he was, but that officers did not tell him that he was shot by the police. It wasn’t until the next day that he read a police statement that said the suspect didn’t fire his weapon. 

“We came here for a better life, for a better education, for safety,” said Weldehiwet who moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia with his family when he was 10. “And come to find out that I would have been safer there than here. It’s a wild thing, I am still trying to process the whole situation.”

He said surgery is scheduled next week for doctors to remove the bullet, if possible, and bullet fragments from his arm. 

Yekalo Weldehiwet, 26, was one of six bystanders shot by Denver police officers after they fired seven rounds toward an armed man July 17 in a busy area of lower downtown Denver. (Photo provided by Siddhartha Rathod)
Bailey Alexander, 24, was one of six bystanders shot by Denver police officers after they fired seven rounds toward an armed man July 17 in a busy area of lower downtown Denver. The bullet entered her back and exited her arm. (Photo provided by Siddhartha Rathod)

All three officers, who were not identified during the news conference, were wearing body cameras that captured the incident, Clark said, but the department has not released the footage.

Clark presented still images from the officers’ footage during the news conference that showed Waddy holding a gun.

Police surveillance cameras and footage from a nearby food vendor also captured the shooting.

According to Clark, officers who were assigned to monitor the crowd outside the bars in the area saw two men fighting. One of the men, later identified as Waddy, started walking through a crowd of people near a food vendor parked in front of the beer hall.

The officers confronted Waddy when he was in the street, away from the crowd, Clark said, and told him to stop. Waddy then walked back onto the sidewalk and appeared to be trying to remove something from his hoodie jacket pocket with his left hand, he said. 

He pointed the muzzle of the gun toward two officers on Larimer Street and the officers “feared the subject was preparing to shoot,” Clark said.

One officer fired four rounds at Waddy, while another fired two rounds, he said. A third officer who saw Waddy’s gun and feared for the other two officers’ safety followed Waddy around a car and onto the sidewalk and fired one round, Clark said. 

The third officer was aware that people were standing behind Waddy and tried to get a clear sight of Waddy before firing, according to Clark. 

“We’re responsible for our response and we will thoroughly review our response. … We consider ourselves a learning organization and we will tend to try to improve our focus on each one of these is to keep our community safe and taking on we have to be very specific on this taking an illegal gun off the streets,” Chief Paul Pazen said. “But I do want to remind folks that this is inherently dangerous that individuals responsible for the incident dictated the police response.”

Officers did not give a verbal warning before firing at Waddy, Clark said, adding that the incident “happened very quickly.” 

At the scene, officers found a Black Rock Island semi-automatic 10 mm handgun, loaded with one round in the chamber and seven in the magazine, Clark said. The hammer on the firearm was cocked back, but there’s no evidence that Waddy fired his weapon.

The three officers were hired by the department in 2019 and have been placed on administrative leave, Clark said. 

“They were trying to mitigate the threat as best as they could initially to contact the subject in the street at a safe location,” he said. “The training is specific to be aware of your target and beyond. The officers are accountable for the rounds that they fire certainly.”

Siddhartha Rathod, who is representing Weldehiwet and a woman who was also struck by a bullet fired by Denver police, called the shooting unacceptable.

He said both of his clients found out they were shot by police after reading or watching the news, rather than being told by the officers that came to interview them while in the hospital. His client, 24-year-old Bailey Alexander, was shot in her back and the bullet went out her arm. 

“Citizens of Colorado, it’s unacceptable to be collateral damage,” Rathod said. “There were over 100 people in a small area. And they open fire.”

He accused the department of “cherry-picking” information to present at Wednesday’s news conference in order to present the department in the best light and called for the immediate release of the officers’ body worn camera footage. 

“We want answers. We want transparency,” he said. “We don’t want Denver’s narrative of what happened.”