Denver District Attorney declines to charge cop who fatally shot William DeBose

DeBose family’s attorney disputes the events that led to his fatal shooting.

A still from a Denver police helicopter video showing a car William DeBose had been in prior to the shooting on May 1. (Image Courtesy of Denver District Attorney's Office)

A still from a Denver police helicopter video showing a car William DeBose had been in prior to the shooting on May 1. (Image Courtesy of Denver District Attorney's Office)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

The Denver District Attorney’s office on Thursday said it would not file charges against a white Denver police officer who fatally shot William DeBose last month.

After completing the legal review of the May 1 shooting near the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch Library, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann’s office found that police corporal Ethan Antonson’s shooting “was legally justified and that no criminal charges are warranted against Officer Antonson.”

Denver police said DeBose, a Black man, was armed at the time of the incident. DeBose family’s attorney disputes the events that led to his fatal shooting.

The DA’s office on Thursday also included footage from the officer’s body-worn cameras (the footage is available on the DA’s website). The footage appears to show DeBose turning toward and pointing something at an officer before he was shot.

According to the 18-page decision letter sent to Chief Paul Pazen by McCann, Antonson first responded to a request for help about a pursuit of a blue and white Chevy Caprice at about 10:20 p.m. on May 1. The department’s helicopter was monitoring the car on I-25 for speeding. Antonson was working in a marked vehicle near 7th Avenue and Federal Boulevard.

The letter said Antonson monitored radio traffic and started traveling toward Colfax Avenue after the car got off the highway onto Colfax. During that time, other officers had been following the Caprice.

The Caprice continued down Colfax before making a hard left turn near the interaction of Irving Street and making another left turn into the library parking lot. The car was parked there at 10:26 p.m. The letter said DeBose and Sierra Martinez-Griego, DeBose’s wife, got out of the car and started walking south through the parking lot towards 14th Avenue.

Antonson arrived at the library at 10:22 p.m. He spotted both DeBose and Martinez-Griego but didn’t make contact with them until 10:27 p.m. when the officer turned his spotlight, his body-worn camera, and got out of his car. He didn’t draw his gun, the letter said, but told both DeBose and Martinez-Griego to stay put.

A handgun retrieved at the scene of William DeBose's shooting that police believe he used to point at a Denver police officer. (Photo Courtesy of Denver's District Attorney's Office)

A handgun retrieved at the scene of William DeBose's shooting that police believe he used to point at a Denver police officer. (Photo Courtesy of Denver's District Attorney's Office)

At this point, in the letter — and as seen in the body camera footage — DeBose holds his hands up before quickly turning and running north toward where the Caprice had been parked.

Antonson gave chase, and while he ran after DeBose, the letter said Debose reached across his body, pulled a handgun and turned toward Antonson. At that moment, Antonson opened fire, firing four times. A clanking can be heard after DeBose hits the ground in the body-worn footage, and officers can be heard pointing out a gun nearby. Officers at the scene rendered aid for DeBose after he was shot.

A 9mm semi-automatic handgun model G2C was recovered at the scene with 11 live rounds. McCann said the gun was tested and shown to be functional.

McCann said in the release she wanted to extend her “deepest sympathy” DeBose’s family for the loss of their son and husband, however the family declined to meet with her before she made the announcement not to charge the officer.

The investigation into DeBose’s death comes amid weeks of protests against racism and police violence in Denver. McCann said in an interview with Denverite on Thursday evening she’s aware of the current call for reform in police departments and the systemic racism in criminal justice.

McCann said that if she could have released the decision prior to George Floyd’s death, she would have, but she said she had been waiting for an autopsy report in DeBose’s case before releasing the decision. She said she knows people won’t agree with the decision.

“In this case, the law is very clear that the officer had the right to use deadly physical force,” McCann said.

A rally calling on the officer involved in the shooting to be charged was scheduled for Thursday evening.

Antonson has been a Denver police officer since 2005 and was previously a Denver Sheriff deputy for four years, according to the decision letter.

Since coming into office in 2017, McCann has not charged a Denver police officer for fatally shooting someone while in the line of duty.

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