Vicki Trujillo carried a cream-colored, heart-shaped urn filled with her husband’s ashes as she entered the hearing room Wednesday at the Colorado Capitol.
Trujillo was there to testify about Senate Bill 217, a sweeping police accountability and reform bill before the House Finance Committee. The bill, introduced amid Denver protests after George Floyd’s killing, passed the Senate on Tuesday and is expected to pass the House by the end of the week.
Trujillo’s husband, Jason Gomez, was fatally shot multiple times by Denver police in 2007. Through tears, she urged lawmakers to pass the bill to hold law enforcement accountable.
“Perhaps if this bill had been passed in 2007, Jason would be sitting next to me (rather) than in this urn,” she said.
Colorado Democrats brought the bill after protests erupted around the nation calling for changes in policing. The protests were brought on by Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, but lawmakers say the bill isn’t just about that — it’s about what’s happening in this state.
The bill calls for more transparency and new controls on police use of force, including requiring all officers to use body-worn cameras, banning the use of chokeholds, and limiting when they are allowed to shoot at a person who is running away, known as the “fleeing felon” statute. Cops also would be required to intervene when seeing other officers using excessive force, and the bill removes “qualified immunity,” allowing officers to be sued in their individual capacities when they’re accused of using excessive force.
After some changes, the bill passed the Senate on a 32-1 vote, gaining the support of all but one Republican.
House members say they also have amendments to the bill that they planned to discuss after testimony, which continued late Wednesday evening.
Jose Hernandez and Laura Sonia Rosales spoke to the committee about the night their lives changed when their oldest daughter, 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez, was fatally shot by Denver police in January 2015. Jose Hernandez told the committee that it’s been difficult, but they wanted to do something to make a change.
“We are here because hopefully it will make a difference, not just to us, to everybody,” he said.
Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat and bill sponsor, told the family that she could see the love they put in their children.
“Your voice today will ensure that other families will not be broken like yours,” she said.
Throughout the hearing Wednesday, attendees could be heard sniffling and crying as people shared their stories and their losses.
The mother of Elijah McClain, a young man killed by Aurora police, Sheneen McClain, once again called for an independent investigation into her son’s death and urged the passing of Senate Bill 217.
“If y’all don’t do better, it’s going to get worse. It’s not going to stop at black people,” she said.
Civil rights attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai represented several of the people who spoke about the killings of their loved ones Wednesday, including one who received a settlement that also included some reform.
“But what we have learned is incremental small changes on the backs of people who are no longer with us is not sufficient,” Mohamedbhai said. “It’s not fast enough, and it’s proven to not be effective.”