DENVER – The family of De’Von Bailey, a 19-year-old black Colorado Springs man who was shot and killed by two police officers last year as he ran from them, has filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Springs Police Department and the two officers alleging federal civil rights violations.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday by the civil rights firm Killmer, Lane & Newman in the U.S. District Court of Colorado in Denver on behalf of Bailey’s estate, which is represented by Bailey’s parents, girlfriend and their child, which was born after Bailey’s death.
The lawsuit asks for relief under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth and 14th Amendments and under Colorado statute. The plaintiffs are asking a judge to grant them declaratory and injunctive relief, economic losses, compensatory and consequential damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees in the case.
The lawsuit contends that the Colorado Springs Police Department has a history of racial profiling against black residents and that the officers who shot Bailey, Sgt. Alan Van’t Land and Officer Blake Evenson, used excessive force in killing Bailey and racially profiled him before the shooting.
A spokesperson for the CSPD said Thursday the department does not comment on pending litigation.
Bailey was shot and killed by the two officers on Aug. 3 of last year. He and another man were accosted by the officers, who were investigating a report of an armed robbery in the area which the lawsuit says turned out later to be a false report.
As shown on body camera video, one officer approached Bailey to search him after he and the other man put their hands up when confronted. At that point in time, Bailey took off running. Seconds later, just after the officer yelled at him to put his hands up and without further warning, both officers fired at Bailey, hitting him three times in the lower back and once in the arm.
He died after being taken to a nearby hospital. Officers did recover a weapon from inside Bailey’s shorts, but it had to be cut out of them in order to be retrieved.
The shooting caused outrage in Colorado Springs as Bailey was running from police with his back turned when he was shot.
The case was referred to the grand jury in October following weeks of calls for an independent investigation. But in November, the grand jury concluded the officers would not face charges and were legally justified in shooting Bailey.
And in March of this year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Colorado announced it would not pursue federal charges after the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded that Bailey’s rights were not violated.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote that it determined that "although undoubtedly devastating to his family, friends, and community," the shooting "did not result from any willful violation of Mr. Bailey's constitutional rights."
At that point, attorney Mari Newman said that her firm was preparing a civil lawsuit, which was filed Thursday.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that if De’Von had been a white man, things would have gone differently,” Newman said in an interview Thursday.
“I think the video shows very clearly that he was simply running away from the officers as fast as he could,” she added. “He was holding up his pants to keep them from falling, like young men who wear their pants too low, but that is not justification for executing a young man in the street for having the bad judgment to run away.”
The lawsuit argues that the department’s practice is to use excessive force and racially profile black men and women. It outlines other instances in which department officers have used excessive force and the department settled cases. It also identifies another deadly shooting in which Van’t Land was involved.
“Colorado Springs could have and should have pursued reasonable methods for training and supervising CSPD officers, including the individual Defendants, in recognizing and guarding against implicit or explicit racial bias in interacting with African Americans and not using excessive force against African Americans, but it failed to do so,” the lawsuit states.
It presents data which the attorneys wrote “make clear that CSPD officers are disproportionately more likely to use force against African American men, like Mr. Bailey, than against similarly situated white suspects.”
And the suit argues that since Colorado Springs hasn’t disciplined officers to some extent before regarding use of force against African Americans, that officers have been de facto “trained” to use excessive force against African Americans.
“The failure to counsel or discipline misconduct constitutes training which causes future similar unconstitutional conduct,” the suit states.
It says that the fact that Bailey was black led the officers “to believe that he was more dangerous than he would have been had he been a white suspect under the same circumstances.”
Bailey’s girlfriend, Laquana Gardner, was pregnant with their child at the time, which was born months after Bailey’s death.
“De’von’s death is devastating. I have lost a man I loved very much. Our child will never have a father. They did not need to kill him,” she said in a statement. “De’Von was not dangerous, and they shot him in cold blood. There needs to be justice.”
The suit was filed in the midst of nationwide demonstrations to protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and calls for reforms of police departments and investigations into officer misconduct.
The Colorado General Assembly is also hashing out a broad criminal justice and use-of-force bill that was unveiled Wednesday that includes several facets regarding use of force and punishment for police officers.
“This senseless killing of a young black man is tragic. The police were not threatened by De’Von. He was running for his life, desperate to get away. Knowing they probably would not catch him, they shot him in the back instead, killing him,” Bailey family attorney Darold Killmer said in a statement. “Our Constitution prohibits using deadly force just to apprehend someone, even if you suspect them of a crime.”