The Boulder, Colo., police department is conducting an internal investigation after video surfaced of an officer questioning a black man who was picking up garbage in front of his residence. The officer has been placed on administrative leave until the investigation is complete.
On March 1, an officer approached the man as he was sitting in an area behind a private property sign and asked him if he had permission to be there, according to a department release. The Daily Camera reported that the man is a student at Naropa University in Boulder, and the building is listed as a school residence. Police have not publicly named the man or the officer.
The man gave the officer his school identification card and said he both worked and lived in the building. However, the officer continued to investigate and called for backup, “indicating that the person was uncooperative and unwilling to put down a blunt object.”
In the 16-minute video, which appears to have been taken by a friend and fellow building resident after the encounter began, the man can be seen holding a bucket and a trash picker.
“You’re on my property with a gun in your hand threatening to shoot me because I’m picking up trash?" the man with the trash picker says.
The man being questioned repeatedly says of the officer, “He’s got a gun!”
“Just relax, man,” the officer responds as sirens are heard and more officers arrive and surround him.
Though a police spokeswoman would not release the number of officers involved, citing the ongoing investigation, at one point the man can be heard saying there are eight officers “with guns drawn." The video appears to show at least one officer, on the far left, holding a gun before putting it away.
Police chief Greg Testa rebutted these particular claims made in the video at a city council meeting on Tuesday, saying “Body-worn camera video indicates that only one officer had a handgun out and it was pointed in the ground.”
The man who was stopped by police and the person taking the video repeatedly assert to the officers that the man lived there and was only picking up garbage.
An officer can be heard assuring the man, who is agitated by the encounter, that "my plan is not to shoot you.” The encounter continues for several minutes until an officer says “we’ve decided we’re going to end things at this point.”
“Officers ultimately determined that the man had a legal right to be on the property and returned the man’s school identification card,” the Boulder police department release states. “All officers left the area and no further action was taken.”
“We began looking into the incident on Friday, shortly after it occurred, and quickly made the decision that we needed to launch an internal affairs investigation,” Boulder police spokeswoman Shannon Aulabaugh said in an emailed statement.
“Our internal affairs investigation will include a review of all body worn camera video, interviews of everyone involved which includes both officers and community members, reports and all other related information,” she said.
Testa said in a prepared statement before the city council that “this is an extremely concerning issue and one that we are taking very seriously." Members of the public who attended the hearing carried signs and trash pickers, the Daily Camera reported.
“While it appears that the officers responding to the requests for backup followed standard procedures given the information they heard over the radio, all aspects of this incident, specifically the actions of the initial officer, are being investigated," he said.
“I am not aware of any information that the man did anything unlawful or wrong," Testa said.
Charles Lief, president of Naropa University, also spoke at the hearing. “I do not want to underestimate the amount of trauma that was experienced by our student, who was the victim in this situation," he said. He noted that he spoke to the man’s mother and “she has made clear that her son is not interested in becoming a symbol for any issue that we have to deal with in this city.”
“The incident that impacted him is going to be one that’s going to take him a long time to deal with,” Lief said. “The city can’t wait that long for us to talk about the broader issues that we have to address.”