Bystanders shot dead by Denver police want answers as department defends actions of officers opening fire into crowd in LoDo early Sunday morning
As bars were left behind in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood around 1:30 a.m. Sunday, people filled the streets. One was enjoying a birthday party with his family and another was spending time with his boyfriend when they were shot by stray police bullets.
Three Denver Police Department officers were pursuing a suspect, 21-year-old Jordan Waddy, early Sunday morning and fired seven shots at him after they said he had pointed a gun at them. The chase took place in the 2000 block of Larimer Street, near Larimer Beer Hall.
At least six innocent bystanders were caught in the crossfire, police confirmed at a press conference on Wednesday. Two of those victims said they were looking for answers as to why the police fired into an open crowd. Both victims reported suffering and sleepless nights after being shot in the arms and shoulder.
“The night was going well because it was my in-laws birthday so we went out to eat and had fun and met up at the Beer Hall,” said Yekalo Weldehiwet, 26, of Denver. . “I met some friends and as soon as we said goodbye to the friends we met there were three of us walking and we heard the first gunshots.”
Weldehiwet said they slipped away and started running towards a parking lot to the left rear of the Beer Hall.
“When I heard the second shot it felt like a baseball, going 100mph, had hit my bone. The bullet entered the back of my biceps and shattered my humerus. The bullet is still there and is fragmenting,” he said.
Bailey Alexander, 24, of Denver, said she was standing in front of a food truck with her boyfriend on Larimer Street when she was shot in the back. Alexander was hit in the back of his right shoulder and the bullet went through just above his armpit and right arm. She too still has bullet fragments in her body.
“My boyfriend grabbed me and started to turn around and shield me a bit, and that’s when I heard the first shot,” Alexander said. “I felt the heat of the blood running down my arm and down my back. My boyfriend picked me up and we started driving down a parking lot right next to Beer Hall. Then we turned into another alley where two other women helped me stay conscious. They asked me questions and put pressure on the wound and made a makeshift tourniquet out of a T-shirt while we waited for the ambulance to arrive.
Both said police refused to tell them who shot them while they were in hospital. They learned it was the police by reading it online the next day.
Denver police defended the officers’ actions at a press conference Wednesday. They said they had to act quickly after Waddy pointed a gun at them.
“Both officers were specifically defending their own lives,” Lt. Matt Clark told reporters. “They thought they were in danger and the subject might have shot them.”
Waddy had been involved in a fight with another person on Larimer Street earlier that night just before the police encountered him.
“They certainly didn’t come in with the intention of hurting other people,” Clark said. “They were trying to mitigate the threat and do the best they could.”
Crowds were dispersing on Larimer Street when police gave verbal orders to Waddy to stop after learning of the scuffle. When police confronted him, Waddy backed onto a sidewalk between a vehicle and a food truck and ignored the order, police said.
Waddy struggled a bit and finally pulled a black semi-automatic handgun out of his jacket pocket. It was then that the police fired at least seven bullets in his direction. One officer fired four shots at Waddy and another fired two shots, both simultaneously. A third officer who had followed Waddy around a vehicle and onto the sidewalk saw Waddy pointing a gun at officers across the street, and he fired a shot at Waddy, police said. That third officer feared for the safety of the other two and got a clear shot before firing, Clark added.
Police say Waddy did not fire his gun at police. The gun had one bullet in the chamber and seven in the magazine when police recovered it.
There was initial confusion over the number of injured bystanders as not all victims were evacuated by ambulance, police said on Wednesday. Some of the victims left alone. According to police on Wednesday, three adult men and three adult women are known to have been injured in the incident.
In addition to Alexandra’s and Weldehiwet’s injuries, police said a woman suffered a serious leg injury; another woman suffered a scrape on her leg; a man was grazed on the foot; and one man suffered a burn-like injury to the chest.
“Due to the nature of the injuries and the lack of ballistic evidence, it may be difficult for us to offer conclusive evidence at any time regarding the projectiles that struck the victims,” Clark said. “Six people should not have been injured that night. Investigators have had close contact with the victims. He said police are working with victims to factor in medical bills, lost wages and more.
Civil rights lawyer Siddhartha Rathod, who represents Alexander and Weldehiwet, called police on Wednesday and pointed to the Police Accountability Bill which came into effect earlier this month.
“Police is difficult and can be dangerous,” Rathod said. “But what Sunday demonstrated is that when police officers feel unsafe, it changes to protect and serve themselves, not to protect and serve the public.
“It’s unacceptable to have that level of collateral damage as they want to call it. Six people being shot, like our two clients, or with shrapnel or burns, that’s unacceptable. When the police are in dangerous situations, they also have to consider the public, and they cannot put the public in greater danger to protect themselves.
According to the police, they are trained in several things to mitigate threats in crowded areas. The police can change position or limit the number of shots they fire.
“We are reviewing the results of this case and conducting internal reviews of practices and training,” Clark said. It is legal to conceal carry in town. If Waddy hadn’t been involved in a physical altercation, his possession of a weapon might not have been a concern, Clark added.
“Police took armed individuals to safety,” Clark said. “Unfortunately, that was not the case in this case. … The suspect fired the gun directly at the officers.
Police declined to release the names of the three officers who fired the shots on Sunday. The officers involved have been with the DPD for three years. None had been involved in police shootings before Sunday, police said Wednesday. Officers are currently on administrative leave.
Body camera footage will be released later after the Denver District Attorney gives the go-ahead, Clark said Wednesday.
Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen claimed responsibility Wednesday and pointed to gun violence in the city.
“We are responsible for our response. Our goal is to keep our community safe. Removing an illegal firearm from the streets is inherently dangerous, Pazen said. “We have recovered dozens of illegal firearms to combat violence in our hotspots, and Lower Downtown is a hotspot.”
All of the passing victims have been released from the hospital, he said. Waddy remains in hospital with multiple gunshot wounds and the severity of his injuries is unclear.
CPR reporter Allison Sherry contributed to this report.