Willis Small IV was disappointed as he identified himself in body-camera footage from a police shooting in Denver’s Lower Downtown last month that injured six people and a man suspected of fighting.
Bailey Alexander was shocked to see the footage. And Yekalo Weldehiwet hasn’t been able to watch it.
They comprise three of the six victims injured by police bullets and fragments as crowds were dispersing in the 2000 block of Larimer Street, near Larimer Beer Hall in the early morning hours of July 17.
Police officers were targeting 21-year-old suspect Jordan Waddy that night after Waddy was involved in a fight, police said. Halo and police body-cam footage released by the city Tuesday shows a lot of commotion on a crowded street. Several of the officers are eventually seen trailing a man, presumed to be Waddy, around a white food truck. Waddy, wearing a black hoodie, is seen holding his hands up briefly as he moves around the truck as police follow him.
Police then give commands for Waddy to “get down” before three of the officers start firing shots at Waddy as he tosses his gun to the ground.
As the officers shot at Waddy, Small, 24, of Denver, was nearby and ran away after noticing he had been shot in his left foot. He said his wound isn’t too bad, although he still can’t put most of his weight on his left side.
When he saw the footage on Tuesday, he said he realized he could have been in more danger than he knew.
“Jordan [Waddy] has a complexion that is similar to me,” Small said Wednesday. “Had I been wearing a different outfit that night, I could have even been mistaken for this individual. It was actually kind of heartbreaking to see Jordan, or the suspect, throw his hands up, discard a weapon and still be shot.”
Small said it was surprising that the shooting didn’t turn out worse.
“Obviously it’s still a terrible situation, but there were no fatalities, which is very surprising considering all of the bullets that went throughout that area.”
Unlike Weldehiwet and Alexander, Small said shortly after the incident, Denver police detectives showed him a still photo of where he was during the shooting.
“It was just a picture printed out on a piece of paper,” he said. “They made me circle myself as if I was like, you know, being investigated or something.”
Bailey Alexander, 24, of Denver, was on the opposite side of the food truck from Small during the shooting. She was shot in the back of her right shoulder. The bullet went through her body just above her armpit and out her right arm. She still has bullet fragments in her body and suffered an infection in her wound.
While watching footage of the shooting for the first time Tuesday, she said she became frustrated. She identified herself and her boyfriend about 3 feet away from the commotion in the footage.
“So pretty much in every single video that they posted, you can very clearly see me and who I was with that night,” Alexander said. “It’s frustrating that these police officers very clearly shot into a crowd that night.
“That’s where the anger came in and shock. We’ve been led to believe one thing up to this point. And so in my mind I’m like, I just didn’t see what happened. I have no idea whether he had pointed a gun at anybody. And then you see him throwing that gun onto the ground and putting his hands up.”
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann announced Tuesday that a Denver grand jury will be asked to open an investigation and review the incident to determine whether the three involved officers will be criminally charged. All three officers were fairly new to the department , having been there about three years each. None had prior shooting incidents on their record, police said.
The DA charged Waddy last month with three felony counts of possession of a weapon by a previous offender and one count of third degree assault.
Attorney Crist Whitney of the Rathod Mohamedbhai civil rights firm, said they have received conflicting information from police. He said police should have tackled Waddy and apprehended him that way. The firm is representing all three victims.
“We’ve all seen officers acting incredibly reckless shooting into a crowd,” Whitney said. “We’re hopeful the grand jury comes back with an indictment on these officers.”
In addition to Small, Alexandra and Weldehiwet’s injuries, police said a female suffered a serious leg injury; another female suffered a graze wound on her leg; and a man suffered a burn-type injury to his chest.
Police defended themselves at a press conference last month and said it was not their intent to shoot bystanders. Denver Police Commander Matt Clark said officers feared for their lives when they saw Waddy remove a gun from his pocket with the muzzle pointed toward them.
“The Denver Police Department is committed to ensuring a full and timely investigation of these serious incidents,” Clark said in a video shared by the department Tuesday.
According to the department’s use of force policy, officers are only allowed to use physical force if other alternatives are ineffective. The policy states that when needed, officers must use only the amount of force that is reasonable and necessary under the totality of the circumstances to safely accomplish a lawful purpose.
Weldehiwet, 26, was shot on the back side of his bicep, and the bullet shattered his humerus bone. He recently had surgery to repair it, he said.
The surgery, he experienced nerve damage in his thumb, so he’s only back at work part time, he said. He still isn’t ready to watch the footage from the shooting.
“I’m still going through that process of healing,” Weldehiwet said. “I couldn’t get myself to watch it, but my brother did watch it. I’m still mentally dealing with what happened that night.”