On March 1, 2019, Boulder Police Officer John Smyly stopped and questioned Zayd Atkinson while he was working in front of the building in which he lived. Mr. Atkinson should not have been stopped. Additionally, the proper protocol would have been for the officer to walk away after Mr. Atkinson produced his student identification card and explained what he was doing. Following the incident, the City of Boulder promptly took steps to address the community’s concerns, including publicly apologizing to Mr. Atkinson, and holding a community listening session. As a result of the listening session, the City established a civilian police oversight task force that made recommendations which resulted in the adoption of an ordinance establishing a new civilian police oversight model. Additionally, the City arranged for the departure of the officer.
Based on the history of race relations and law enforcement in the United States, and the particular circumstances of the encounter, Mr. Atkinson’s anger was justified. While the stop itself was wrong, some things were done right during the encounter itself. Backup officers who were called to the scene and led by a sergeant quickly determined that Mr. Atkinson lived in the building and was engaged in his work study job. Once the additional officers who arrived assessed the situation, they used appropriate de-escalation techniques and left. The training of the additional officers who arrived on scene contributed to the resolution of this incident without further escalation or injury.
Mr. Atkinson and the City are settling any potential claims arising from this interaction so that the parties may focus on the continued healing of both the community and Mr. Atkinson. Prolonged litigation will adversely impact those efforts. The City is committed to learning from this incident and moving forward to become a safer, more welcoming, and respectful place for all.