Denver DA vows to make “bold changes” after not charging officer who fatally shot William DeBose

DA Beth McCann said she’s committed to making some changes, but she offered no specifics.

Demonstrators protest the police killing of William DeBose and other victims of police brutality Friday, June 12, 2020, at a peaceful state Capitol rally and march up Colfax int Capitol Hill.

Demonstrators protest the police killing of William DeBose and other victims of police brutality Friday, June 12, 2020, at a peaceful state Capitol rally and march up Colfax int Capitol Hill.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

During an online public meeting Wednesday night, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann explained her decision not to charge the police officer who shot and killed William DeBose last month.

McCann shared details about her investigation and answered questions. The public meeting came nearly a week after the DA’s office first announced it would not file charges against Denver police corporal Ethan Antonson.

DeBose’s family has disputed the events that led to his death. The shooting has sparked protests in Denver, amid nationwide calls for racial justice and protests against police brutality.

During the meeting, McCann reiterated that Antonson was justified in the shooting based on self-defense laws in Colorado. She added that Antonson’s record shows no involvement in previous shootings.

“In this particular case, you had an officer who had not drawn his gun, who was not anticipating that there would be a need to use force,” McCann said. “Because Mr. DeBose took off running, the officer had to chase him to get any information necessary based on the conduct he was aware of.”

Antonson shot four times at DeBose, who was hit twice, McCann said. An autopsy report showed DeBose died of a gunshot wound to the chest that injured both lungs. The other bullet hit Debose’s thigh.

The shooting happened during a traffic stop on the night of May 1 after officers observed DeBose speeding on I-25. But it took weeks for the District Attorney’s office to complete its investigation. McCann said one reason for the delay was because Sierra Martinez-Griego, DeBose’s wife, didn’t give police a statement until June 11.

Martinez-Griego told police she saw a gun inside a black pouch on the floor of the couple’s car earlier in the day but that DeBose didn’t take it with him when he left the car after being stopped. Police said they found the open black pouch, which contained diabetic equipment, and a gun on the ground at the scene after the shooting.

Denver’s Assistant District Attorney Zach McCabe said the gun was legally purchased in January but not by DeBose. The person who bought the gun told the DA’s office that it was stolen after a house party. The gun’s owner also told investigators they didn’t report the theft because they didn’t trust law enforcement. McCabe said firmly that there’s no evidence DeBose stole the gun.

During Wednesday’s meeting, McCann also spoke broadly to her office’s efforts to address issues around racial justice. She said she supports the Black Lives Matter movement and that she’s worked to reduce mass incarceration since she was sworn into office, particularly for Black and brown people.

“I look forward to the opportunity to work with members of the community, members of my staff, members of the police department as well as other government agencies in order to really look very closely at our system and make some changes, bold changes, to restore trust and even build trust from the beginning,” she said. “I am committed to working to make that better.”

McCann said her office has held mandatory trainings about microaggressions and implicit bias and that professors have helped facilitate discussions about social justice. She also meets with advisory councils monthly, which include a diverse range of community members.

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