A Denver police officer was “legally justified” in killing an unarmed bank robbery suspect, the DA’s office says

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Dion Damon didn’t have a gun on him when he was shot and killed by Denver Police Technician Jeffrey Motz earlier this year, but it was reasonable that Motz would think Damon was armed, District Attorney Mitch Morrissey wrote in a letter that found the shooting to be legally justified.

Damon, 40, was wanted on suspicion of carrying out an armed robbery March 17 at the Bank of Denver on South Holly Street, and he had been charged with weapons offenses in the past.

On April 11, officers followed Damon in his car to the corner of 13th and Bannock streets, near the Denver Art Museum and Civic Center Park, and blocked him in after he dropped off two passengers, his girlfriend and her son.

Motz told investigators he had his gun pointed at Damon and told him to show his hands several times. He said Damon didn’t do as he was told, shook his head no several times and seemed to be handling something below the level of the dashboard that Motz couldn’t see. He said Damon then raised his hands quickly and suddenly.

From Motz’s statement to investigators:

And I see a black and silver colored semi-auto in his right hand. And, it’s starting to come toward me.

At that time, I fired at him. I’m gonna call it approximately three shots very quickly. I kind of paused there, for just a split second, because I lost sight of him.

But what I saw was him rolling over this way. So, what I thought he was doing was ducking underneath the dashboard to be able to shoot through the windshield right at me. So, I continued firing and fired several more shots. He stopped moving altogether and I stopped shooting.

Motz fired seven shots from a .45-caliber handgun. Three of the shots hit Damon, one of them in the head.

It turned out that Damon was not armed. No gun was found on him or in the car. Investigators did find a cell phone in a position such that it’s possible Damon was holding it and dropped it as he was shot, but they couldn’t be sure.

Other witnesses said they couldn’t see into the car at the time of the shooting because of its tinted windows. Motz said he could see clearly through the windshield from where he was standing.

There is no video that shows Damon’s actions, but the DA’s office said the autopsy findings are consistent with Motz’s statement that Damon’s palms weren’t facing out.

The DA’s Office concluded that it was reasonable for Motz to think Damon would be armed, given that he was wanted for a bank robbery that involved the use of a gun. Damon was responsible for his own death by not putting his hands up where officers could see them, Morrissey says in the letter.

Damon was the cause of the lethal outcome because he made the sudden threatening gesture pretending to point a gun at Motz. Why he did this cannot be known. But considering the tense circumstances facing Motz it is clearly understandable and reasonable that he believed Damon was making a move to shoot him and was armed with a gun.

In this dangerous factual context it makes no difference legally that Damon was not holding a gun. An officer is not required by law to wait to be fired upon before firing in self-defense.

Denver police have shot and killed seven people this year. Morrissey has found the officer did not act in a way that warrants criminal charges in five of the cases. Investigations into two other shootings are still in process.