El Paso County Grand Jury Heard From Officers, Expert, Before Calling De’Von Bailey Shooting Justified

Colorado Springs Police Department
Screencapture from police body cam video from Aug. 3, 2019 and released by the Colorado Springs Police Department on Aug. 15, 2019.

An El Paso County grand jury heard from two Colorado Springs officers who fired shots at De'Von Bailey and consulted with an expert on police use of force before finding that the killing of the 19-year-old was justified under Colorado law.

After deciding not to issue indictments in the case, the grand jury asked to make a report of their findings public. That report was released on Thursday afternoon.

In it, grand jurors found that Officer Blake Evenson and Sgt. Alan Van't Land had a "reasonable belief" that Bailey was armed, had just committed a robbery and represented a threat to the public and the officers when he ran as he was being questioned.

"The actions of Sgt. Van't Land and Officer Evenson in using deadly force against Mr. Bailey were determined by the Grand Jury to be reasonable and justified according to the law," the report said.

The grand jury relied on two elements of Colorado law.

First, that Bailey was a fleeing felon, as defined by statute, and that "these officers had a reasonable belief that Mr. Bailey had committed the felony of aggravated robbery and was in possession of a firearm," the grand jurors said. Colorado law gives police the authority to use deadly force to prevent the escape of an individual suspected of certain crimes using a weapon.

Second, the grand jury found that the officers had a right to self-defense and to defend others under Colorado law.

"Police have the crucial and momentous responsibility to maintain the peace and protect the public at all times," the report said. "They also have the right to protect themselves."

Attorneys for Bailey's family have complained that the grand jury did not represent a truly independent review of the facts and that they would likely file a lawsuit and seek federal review of the officer's actions.

Pastor Terry Thomas, a friend of the Bailey family said they are still grieving and were deeply saddened by the grand jury's decision.

"I talked with the grandmother last night and her heart was crushed and she had just talked to De’Von’s mother and her heart was crushed and they were disappointed,” he said Thursday morning, before the grand jury report was released. “We should not let this be the end of it because if we do, then we are just waiting for it to happen again.”

The shooting of Bailey in the back as he ran was captured on cameras worn by the officers, but viewpoints on the shooting still diverged. Officers, from the outset, said they believed Bailey was reaching for a gun as he ran, while the family's attorneys argued that he makes no threatening movements and is just trying to get away.

The grand jury came down on the side of the officers on that, finding that Bailey did seem to reach for his shorts, where he was carrying a loaded gun.

"After his initial steps Mr. Bailey's hands started to reach to the front of his waistband and were not swinging as one would expect from someone attempting to run quickly," according to the report.

The report notes that Van't Land and Evenson testified voluntarily under oath "even though it is their Constitutional right not to do so." Over the course of three meetings, grand jurors also heard from deputies from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, who investigated the shooting, crime scene and forensics experts and "an independent expert in use of force expert from outside the state of Colorado and not associated with any law enforcement agency."

"He concluded that the officers acted reasonably when they used lethal force to subdue Mr. Bailey," the report said. The expert was not identified.

Not mentioned as a witness before the grand jury was Lawrence Stoker, who was with Bailey when Van't Land initially approached the pair while investigating the robbery in the 2400 Block of East Fountain Boulevard.

The grand jury also reviewed the use-of-force policies employed by Colorado Springs Police. The report noted that Colorado Springs Police policy forbids the use of warning shots, and officers are instructed to aim at the center of a body after making the decision to use deadly force, to prevent a wounded suspect with a gun from using it against officers.

Police policy also "does not recommend" the use of less-than-lethal force, like a Taser, when engaging a suspect armed with a firearm.

The grand jurors identities were not revealed, and the signature of the foreperson on the report was blacked out before it was released to the public. But the report notes that the grand jury was "selected from a random community pool in January 2019 and is comprised of local citizens with diverse backgrounds and experiences."

Those grand jurors acknowledged that the case has been "tragic" and stirred deep concerns in the community and among Bailey's family.

"The community, witnesses and officers have all been deeply affected by this incident," the grand jury wrote. "None of this changes the fact that Mr. Bailey chose a course of action on Aug. 3, 2019, that led Sgt. Van't Land and Officer Evenson to make a real-time judgment to use deadly force to protect the community and law-abiding citizens they are bound to protect."