Parents, teachers outraged after police sweep Denver charter school in search for suspect

DENVER -- Teachers and parents at a downtown Denver charter school say they were outraged after police officers swept it to search for a student wanted for first-degree attempted murder last month.

The principal of Rise Up Community School at 2342 Broadway near Park Avenue West said one teacher was pushed by police and a staff member had three guns drawn on her during the sweep.

Parents and faculty members are calling for investigations by Denver Public Schools and the Denver Police Department’s internal affairs division.

On April 24, police responded to the school to look for a student wanted for attempted first-degree murder in Lakewood.

“I thought there was like an active shooter because [police] brought so many people over here,” a witness said.

Witnesses said dozens of officers swarmed the high school property -- a charter school for kids struggling to graduate.

The school said police asked to talk to the wanted student -- who the principal said was not in class.

“I said the student is not here, and [police] said, ‘We’re not sure we believe you,’” Rise Up principal Lucas Ketzer said.

Denver Public Schools said in a statement that Department of Safety Chief Michael Eaton, "recognizing the conflicting information but acknowledging the risk that there could be an armed student on campus, allowed DPD to search the classrooms."

“They had grabbed a student by his arm and lifted him up in class and they were like we need you to take off your hat please,” one student said in a video released by Padres & Jovenes Unidos.

Officers did not find the suspect.

In a statement, police said imminent and potentially dangerous circumstances -- and confirmation from a staff member that the suspect was inside -- meant a warrant was not required.

“There was one guy -- he had his gun pulled out and he was taking guard behind that trash can,” a witness said of the police activity. “Then some other dude had a big old assault rifle."

Denver Public Schools said when its safety officers learned police had surrounded the school, they believed officers were responding to a critical incident involving a person with a weapon.

In a statement, the district said the situation has brought to the forefront the importance of conversations about how policing looks and feels inside its schools.

“If DPD would’ve come in ... and said there’s a dangerous kid in your school with a gun ... I would’ve said 'Holy cow, go, whatever you have to do,'” Ketzer told FOX31.

Ketzer said either police believed there was an armed student in the building and didn’t act for about 15 minutes or police are now saying they believed the student had a weapon to justify their search.

Still, students and staffers said the event was "incredibly traumatic."

Denver Public Schools statement:

"On April 24, Denver Police asked our Denver Public Schools Department of Safety to respond to a situation at RiseUp Community School, a DPS charter school. Denver Police informed us that they were surrounding the building, and a shooting suspect was inside. Understandably alarmed by the urgency of the dispatch, multiple DPS officers responded to the school, including our Chief of Safety. Our Department of Safety officers believed they were responding to a critical incident involving a person with a weapon inside the school. The school leader informed Chief Eaton that DPD had not described an imminent safety risk, and that he told responding DPD officers that the student was not present at school. Our Chief of Safety, recognizing the conflicting information but acknowledging the risk that there could be an armed student on campus, allowed DPD to search the classrooms.

We recognize that this experience was incredibly traumatic for our students, staff and the entire RiseUp family, and are troubled by the reports we have received from the school staff and students. As a diverse and inclusive school district, we are deeply aware that experiences with and perceptions of law enforcement have a profound impact on our city, particularly in our communities of color. We are committed to ensuring the safety of our students, both physically and emotionally, and this situation has brought to the forefront the importance of conversations about how policing looks and feels inside our schools. We look forward to working with our schools, community partners, and the Denver Police Department to ensure that our school-based policing practices preserve the safety and dignity of all involved."

Denver police issued a statement Wednesday:

"The goal of the Denver Police Department in partnership with Denver Public Schools Safety and Security is to keep students and staff members safe on all school campuses. The Denver Police Department has a strong working relationship with Denver Public Schools administration as well as the safety and security department. On April 24th, 2018, Denver Police officers responded to Rise Up Community School in search of a suspect wanted for attempted first degree murder – this incident occurred the night before in another metro-area jurisdiction. Officers received information that the suspect was in the school, and given the nature of the allegations, believed the suspect posed a possible threat to students and staff.

When officers arrived, they set up outside of the school to ensure the suspect did not leave the building. Given the imminent and potentially dangerous circumstances, and confirmation from a staff member that the suspect was inside, a warrant was not required to search inside the building for the suspect. After working with the principal to eventually gain access to the building, DPD officers conducted a search, but did not locate the suspect. Officers that were inside did not draw their weapons at any point during the search for the suspect.

Immediately following the incident, the Denver Police Department command staff met with the principal to discuss the situation and offered a follow-up meeting to further discuss the best, safest ways to manage any future incidents.

Our main goal in any situation involving a school, is to ensure the safety of the students and staff."

Denver's executive director of public safety, Troy Riggs, issued the following statement:

“I have heard the concerns from the community and Independent Monitor regarding the incident that occurred at RiseUp Community School and an administration investigation was opened this morning to review the incident.”

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