As bars were being let out in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday people filled the streets. One was enjoying a birthday celebration with his family and another was enjoying time with her boyfriend when they were shot by stray bullets from police.
Three officers from the Denver Police Department were pursuing a suspect, 21-year-old Jordan Waddy, early Sunday morning and fired seven shots at him after they say he pointed a gun at them. The pursuit happened in the 2000 block of Larimer Street, near Larimer Beer Hall.
At least six innocent bystanders were caught in the crossfire, police confirmed at a press conference Wednesday. Two of those victims said they are looking for answers as to why police fired shots into an open crowd. Both victims said they are suffering pain and sleepless nights after they were shot in their arms and shoulder.
“The night was going well because it was my in-law’s birthday, so we went out to eat and were having fun and ended up at Beer Hall,” said Yekalo Weldehiwet, 26, of Denver. “I met some friends and as soon as we said goodbye to the friends we met up with, three of us were walking, and we heard the first gunshots.”
Weldehiwet said they ducked and started running toward a parking lot on the back left side of Beer Hall.
“When I heard the second gunshot, I felt like a baseball, going 100 mph, had slammed into my bone. The bullet entered the back side of my bicep and shattered my humerus bone. The bullet is still in there and fragments,” he said.
Bailey Alexander, 24, of Denver, said she was standing at a food truck with her boyfriend on Larimer Street when she was struck by a bullet in the back. Alexander was hit in the back of her right shoulder and the bullet went through just above her armpit and out her right arm. She too still has bullet fragments in her body.
“My boyfriend grabbed me and started to turn me and shield me a little bit, and that’s when I heard the first gunshot,” Alexander said. “I felt the warmth of the blood going down my arm and my back. My boyfriend picked me up and we started going down a parking lot right next to Beer Hall. Then we turned into another alleyway where two other women helped me stay conscious. They asked me questions and held pressure to the wound and made a make-shift tourniquet out of a T-shirt while we waited for the ambulance to arrive.”
Both said police declined to tell them who had actually shot them while in the hospital. They learned it was police by reading it online the next day.
Denver police defended the officers' actions at a press conference on Wednesday. They said they had to act quickly after Waddy pointed a gun at them.
“The two officers were specifically defending their own life,” said Lt. Matt Clark to reporters. “They thought they were in peril and the subject could have fired upon them.”
Waddy had been involved in a fight with another person on Larimer Street earlier that night right before police encountered him.
“They certainly didn’t go in with the intent of injuring other people,” Clark said. “They were trying to mitigate the threat and do the best they could.”
Crowds were dispersing on Larimer Street when police gave verbal commands for Waddy to stop after learning about the fight. When police confronted him, Waddy backed up onto a sidewalk between a vehicle and a food truck, and disregarded the command, police said.
Waddy struggled a bit and eventually removed a black semiautomatic handgun from his jacket pocket. That’s when police fired at least seven rounds toward him. One officer fired four rounds at Waddy and another officer fired two rounds, both simultaneously. A third officer who had followed Waddy around a vehicle and onto the sidewalk saw Waddy pointing a gun at the officers across the street, and he fired one shot at Waddy, police said. This third officer feared for the safety of the other two and got a clear shot before firing, Clark added.
Police said Waddy did not fire his gun at police. The gun had one round in the chamber and seven in the magazine clip when police collected it.
There was initial confusion about the number of bystanders injured because not all victims were taken from the scene by ambulance, police said Wednesday. Some of the victims left on their own. Police said as of Wednesday, it is known that three adult males and three adult females were hurt in the incident.
In addition to Alexandra and Weldehiwet’s injuries, police said a female suffered a serious leg injury; another female suffered a graze wound on her leg; a man suffered a graze wound to his foot; and a man suffered a burn-type injury to his chest.
“Due to the nature of the injuries and lack of ballistic evidence, it may be difficult for us to offer conclusive evidence at any time regarding the projectiles that struck the victims,” Clark said. “Six people should not have been injured that night. Investigators have had close contact with the victims.” He said police are working with victims to consider medical costs, lost wages and more.
Civil Rights Attorney Siddhartha Rathod, who is representing Alexander and Weldehiwet, called police out on Wednesday and pointed to the police accountability bill that went into effect at the start of this month.
“Policing is difficult and it can be dangerous,” Rathod said. “But what Sunday demonstrated is that when police officers feel they are in danger, it changes to protect and serve themselves, and not to protect and serve the public.
“It is unacceptable to have this level of collateral damage as they want to call it. Six people being shot with bullets, like our two clients, or with shrapnel or burns, is unacceptable. When police officers are in dangerous situations, they have to consider the public as well. And they can’t put the public in more danger to protect themselves.”
According to police, there are several things they are trained to do to mitigate threats in crowded areas. Police can change position or limit the number of rounds they fire.
“We’re looking at the results of this case and doing internal reviews of practices and training,” Clark said. It is legal to conceal carry downtown. Had Waddy not been involved in a physical altercation, his having a weapon might not have been cause for concern, Clark added.
“Police have taken in armed individuals safely,” Clark said. “Unfortunately, this was not the case in this case. …The suspect pulled the firearm directly on officers.”
Police declined to release the names of the three officers who fired shots Sunday. The involved officers have been with the DPD for three years. None had been involved in police shootings prior to Sunday, police said Wednesday. The officers are currently on administrative leave.
Body cam footage will be released later after the Denver District Attorney gives the greenlight, Clark said Wednesday.
Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen claimed responsibility on Wednesday and pointed to gun violence in the city.
“We’re responsible for our response. Our focus is to keep our community safe. Taking an illegal gun off the streets is inherently dangerous, Pazen said. “We have recovered dozens of illegal guns to curb violence in our hotspots, and Lower Downtown is a hot spot.”
All bystander victims have been released from the hospital, he said. Waddy is still in the hospital with multiple gunshot wounds and it is unclear how severe his injuries are.
CPR reporter Allison Sherry contributed to this report.
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