Denver Police are still searching for the next of kin of a trans woman shot and killed by officers earlier this month

Not much is known so far about the life of 52-year-old Miguel Tapia, who was shot and killed on June 16.
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Shows Denver Police flag waving
A Denver Police Department flag at Denver Police Department headquarters. Jan. 25, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Two weeks after Denver Police shot and killed 52-year-old Miguel Tapia, who was threatening officers with a knife, investigators know little more than Tapia's name and age.

“I do want to acknowledge the tragedy of the death,” said Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas at a press briefing Tuesday. “And also our significant regret at the fact that despite significant efforts to try to identify next of kin, we've not been able to make a family notification as we would've liked and so those efforts will continue.”

Tapia, a trans woman, spoke Spanish, at one point telling the officers something.

“I think translated to mean ‘kill me,’” according to Thomas. 

“I don’t think that we’ll ever know what their desire was in that situation,” said Thomas, who referred to Tapia using they/them pronouns. “But certainly the presence of the knife, the proximity that that individual got to those officers with the knife, I think makes their response appropriate.”

A timeline of the shooting

At around 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 16, reports came in to police about a person blocking traffic in the area of Broadway and Lawrence Street.

A Denver Park Ranger at the scene called police at 11:45 a.m., reporting that the person was armed with an 8-inch knife and refusing to get out of the road.

Officers quickly responded and found Tapia, and positioned their patrol cars to divert traffic.

A screenshot taken from body cam footage of the encounter with Tapia at North Broadway and Lawrence Street.
Denver Police Department

The encounter, captured on body camera, lasted only seconds.

One officer told Tapia to put their hands on their head at least three times. Tapia then pulled out a large knife from a bag and advanced quickly towards the officer. A second officer gave commands in Spanish.

Two officers deployed their Tasers. One of the officers deployed his Taser twice.

“The Taser device appeared to have a very brief impact but was not effective in stopping the subject’s intentional movement towards the officers,” said Matt Clark, commander of the major crimes division for the Denver Police Department.

A picture of the knife recovered from the scene of the shooting. Body cam video provided by DPD shows that Tapia threatened police with the knife before the shooting.
A picture of the knife recovered from the scene of the shooting. Body cam video provided by DPD shows that Tapia threatened police with the knife before the shooting.
Denver Police Department

Clark added that Tasers can fail for any number of reasons, but that both officers had successfully deployed these Tasers before.

As Tapia got closer with the knife drawn, both officers opened fire — 12 shots in all, and Tapia fell motionless into the street. Police rendered aid to Tapia after the shooting, and an ambulance arrived quickly, but Tapia was pronounced dead at the scene.

DPD did not name the officers involved.

Denver police haven't been able to locate next of kin

Tapia was identified through fingerprints, but police would not say if Tapia had a criminal record. There are no arrests listed in Colorado databases for Tapia.

Thomas said police believe they were homeless, but didn’t know if they had stayed in any local shelters.

Police are asking for the public’s help, information or any videos of the incident.

One of the two officers involved in the shooting started on the force in 2018 and the other in 2022. Neither has been involved in a prior police shooting, according to Clark. The officers will be on modified duty while an investigation is underway, led by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the State Patrol. 

The Housekeys Action Network Denver, a homeless advocacy group has organized vigils at the scene of the shooting.

Clark also acknowledged that it’s unusual to be unable to locate next of kin or friends. 

“We’re generally very successful in locating people’s family members, friends who can connect us with family members in these situations,” Clark said. “And despite all of our efforts haven't been able to locate people who are associated with this individual and even friends that we can can make those connections, so it has been concerning. We want to have the conversations with them, and talk through these incidents, and share the information that we have.”

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