At a forum Thursday night in a Colorado Springs church, activists under the banner "Justice For De'Von Bailey Editorial Board" called for civilian oversight of the city’s police department.
Most of the night’s questions were directed at police chief Vince Niski, who refused to comment on the Bailey case specifically because, he said, the city faces a civil lawsuit.
About 200 people packed the sanctuary of Relevant Word Ministries, where just six months ago the casket of 19-year-old De’Von Bailey rested.
Bailey, 19, was shot and killed by Colorado Springs Police last August. He was initially stopped for questioning with a friend while walking near the scene of a robbery.
Bailey initially answered questions, then ran as an officer approached to check him for weapons. Colorado Springs Police body camera images show Bailey sprinting before he is shot in the back by two officers who then pull a gun from his pants as he bleeds in the street.
A grand jury later cleared the officers, ruling that under Colorado's fleeing felon law, they were justified in shooting Bailey when he ran because they had reason to believe he had committed a robbery with a deadly weapon and was a danger to the community.
On the question of civilian oversight, Niski is wary. He told CPR News after the event he’s never seen a model of community oversight that he likes.
“My biggest concern is I really do believe you need to know what a police officer goes through before you can actually oversee and criticize what they do,” he said.
Panelist Stephany Rose Spaulding, who sat next to the chief, wants more transparency from Colorado Springs police and is among those calling for civilian oversight. A UCCS professor and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, Spaulding pointed to the crowd as evidence that the black community especially does not trust law enforcement.
“The reality is this room is standing-room-only and there are people watching online because what we have in place in this city is ineffective. So just receive it,” she told Niski. “Receive that it is ineffective because we would not have a room like this if it were effective.”
In response to a question from the evening’s moderator, pastor Rev. Promise Y. Lee, Chief Niski told the audience he does not believe his department is racist. He said, like in any organization, there are "bad apples."
The forum grew tense at times, but there was applause when the chief agreed to continue the conversation around how to improve the relationship between his officers and communities of color in Colorado Springs.
“I think it’s very obvious that we have a part of our community that’s upset with some of the actions of the Colorado Springs Police Department," he said.
"I think tonight we were able to start the dialogue between the police department and the members of the community that have those concerns so that we can hopefully in the future come up with a solution that satisfies both us and the community to get the information they need.”
The forum also featured Dr. Florencia Rojo, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Colorado College who, with students, is conducting research on policing in Colorado Springs. Kevin Mitchell of the Colorado Springs NAACP and Gia Irlando, of Denver’s Office of The Independent Monitor, also presented.