DENVER (AP) — Police who shot a 22-year-old Colorado man after he called 911 for roadside assistance escalated the situation, needlessly leading to his death, the man’s relatives said in a tearful news conference Tuesday in which they called for accountability.
After Christian Glass’ June 11 death in the small mountain town of Silver Plume west of Denver, the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s office issued a news release saying that Glass was shot after he became “argumentative and uncooperative” and tried to stab an officer when police broke a car window to grab him.
“Christian was experiencing a crisis, and he called 911 for help,” said the parents’ attorney, Siddhartha Rathod, “and yet these officers busted out Christian’s window, shot him six times with bean bag rounds, Tased him multiple times from two Tasers, and then shot him five times.”
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation handles police shootings, including the Glass case, but the family wants prosecutors to file criminal charges, Rathod said.
Heidi McCollum, district attorney for the Fifth Judicial District that includes Clear Creek County, released a statement Tuesday saying her office is investigating the case along with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Her office plans to eventually issue a report on the shooting or present the case to a grand jury, which would decide if indictments should be issued, McCollum said.
The videos shared with The Associated Press show Glass refusing to come out of his car while also telling police he’s “terrified” and making heart shapes with his hands to officers. At one point, he also can be seen praying with folded hands and saying, “Dear Lord, please, don’t let them break the window.”
When the officers did break the window, Glass seemed to panic and grabbed a knife.
Police then shot Glass with bean bag rounds and shocked him with a stun gun before the young man twisted in his seat and thrust a knife toward an officer, the footage showed. Then one officer fired his gun, hitting Glass. The recordings then show Glass stabbing himself before he died.
The family said the videos were only edited to blur the body. The AP has requested that police provide any videos related to the case.
Rathod said Glass had no history of mental illness. When asked about Glass’s abnormal behavior, he said “unfortunately we are not ever going to know.”
Rathod released an autopsy report that found that Glass died of gunshot wounds. It said he had THC, a .01% blood alcohol concentration, and amphetamine in his system, the last of which Rathod said is likely from an ADHD prescription for Glass.
The shooting comes amid a national outcry for police reforms focused on crisis intervention, de-escalation and alternative policing programs. In Denver and New York, behavioral health specialists are sent to 911 callers facing crises that police may not be trained to address or could even exacerbate.
Police haven’t said if any behavioral health specialists were called for Glass.
Use-of-force and de-escalation experts who reviewed the footage for The Associated Press said this case is an example of when a behavioral health specialist or crisis response team — programs becoming increasingly popular across the country — may have helped de-escalate the situation and avert Glass’ death.
“There are some real red flags that suggest potential problems,” said Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and leading use-of-force expert who reviewed portions of the footage. Stoughton testified in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who murdered George Floyd.
While police officers may be justified in using force once a situation has intensified, “it’s everything that we do before that in terms of de-escalation that can make those situations go a completely different direction,” said Tamara Lynn, the executive council president for the National De-Escalation Training Center, who reviewed the footage.
In particular, both Lynn and Stoughton questioned why officers didn’t take Glass up on his offer, recorded by body camera footage, to disarm himself by throwing his knives out of his car window.
While a thrown knife can pose a threat, “officers have plenty of opportunity to maneuver themselves and put themselves in a position that’s not risky,” said Stoughton. “I am kind of astonished that they did not take advantage of what looked like a very clear opportunity to have him separate himself from the weapons.”
Similarly, Stoughton wondered why they needed to break the car window. He said police don’t have all day to spend on one call, but questioned if they needed to.
“It’s not clear to me that it should have gone that far,” he said.
Between tears on Tuesday, Christian’s mother, Sally Glass, displayed a pendant of Jesus recovered from her son’s car that is engraved with the words, “Pray for us.”
“We have to pray for us in America to make this a less violent country,” Sally Glass said. “I think a lot of people now would agree that there is a systemic problem with policing: It’s too aggressive. They escalate at every opportunity, and it looks like they are spoiling for a fight. … They should be protecting us, not attacking us.”
Glass said her son was “petrified” and “paralyzed” by fear the night he was killed.
“I have a hole in my heart, and it will be there until the day I die,” Glass said.
Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert contributed to this report.
Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Bedayn on Twitter.
This story has been updated to correct the age of Christian Glass and the date of his death.