DENVER (AP) — A Denver police officer who fired at an armed man — and was accused of accidentally shooting five bystanders in the crowd outside a bar — has been indicted on assault and other charges, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
A grand jury indicted Officer Brandon Ramos on two counts of second-degree assault, both felonies; as well as six counts of third-degree assault, a prohibited use of a weapon and five counts of reckless endangerment, which are misdemeanors, in the July 17, 2022 incident in a nightlife area, according to court documents. No lawyer was listed as representing him yet in court records.
Three officers in total fired at Jordan Waddy, 21, after he allegedly pulled out a gun from his pocket outside the Larimer Beer Hall at closing time, according to the indictment.
Allegedly, Ramos shot at Waddy from the side twice — while a crowd of people was standing behind him, it said. Waddy did not turn around to face toward Ramos with the firearm, according to the indictment.
The two other officers who were standing in front of Waddy when he pulled the gun will not be prosecuted because grand jurors found that they were legally justified in shooting at him, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said.
According to the indictment, Officers Kenneth Rowland and Meghan Lieberson feared for their lives and the lives of other officers when they fired a combined six shots at him. From their positions, there was only a brick wall and the bar behind Waddy.
Waddy did not turn around to face Ramos, according to the indictment.
“Officer Ramos’ decision to shoot was not legally justified because it was reckless, unreasonable and unnecessary for the purpose of protecting himself or other officers and he consciously disregarded an unjustifiable risk of injury to the crowd behind Mr. Waddy,” it said.
Waddy was struck several times but survived. He is a previous offender, and is being prosecuted for third-degree assault and possession of a firearm, McCann said.
The officers — all assigned to a unit to prevent violence in the area on weekends — were following Waddy after he punched another man during a fight and signaled that he was armed.
McCann, who asked a grand jury to review the shooting in August, thanked grand jurors for their work, which involved hearing from 17 witnesses and reviewing 140 exhibits.
“This is a very serious matter and I appreciate the time and attention each of them devoted to this important decision. The case will now move forward in the courts,” she said.
Both Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and the police department’s union questioned the decision to charge Ramos with a crime.
While Hancock, a Democrat, called the shooting of bystanders an “unfortunate” situation, he said he was surprised that the grand jury found that Ramos had criminal intent.
“Police officers make split second decisions under difficult circumstances on a daily basis, and those decisions are rooted in keeping people safe,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile The Denver Police Protective Association said it would do everything it could to defend Ramos. It predicted the indictment would hinder what it already said was an understaffed and overworked department’s ability to recruit and retain officers — and said the whole situation could have been avoided if Waddy had stopped and shown empty hands to the officers.
“To charge this officer with a felony crime, jeopardizing his career and liberty for acting as he was trained and in the public interest, with no malice, ill intent or lack of concern is unfortunate and sad,” the union said.
The Denver Police Department declined to comment on the indictment because of the pending prosecution.
Siddhartha H. Rathod, a lawyer representing the bystanders who were shot, said the issue was not about criminal intent but about “reckless and outrageous conduct” by Ramos. He said the police department should work on improving their training if they want to ensure they can find officers to work for it.
Willis Small IV, who lost a portion of his foot after being shot, said he decided to stay home on New Year’s Eve because he feared gunfire on such a big night — especially after he was wounded on an ordinary night out.
“It’s a blessing that any of us are even standing here today,” he said at a press conference at Rathod’s office.
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