Colorado lawmakers hear testimony on police accountability bill

Politics

DENVER (KDVR) — When Vicki Trujillo walked up to testify at the State Capitol Wednesday, she was carrying an object in her hands. No one knew what it was.

A few minutes later, she told the room it was an urn containing the ashes of her late husband Jason Gomez. 

She told House committee members he was killed by Denver police. 

“Jason, if they didn’t know your name then, they will know your name now: Jason Gomez,” she said through tears.

That testimony came as the state representatives begin considering Senate Bill 20-217, which is aimed at increasing police accountability.

At times, protesters could be heard outside the meeting room at the Capitol. 

State Rep. Leslie Herod helped sponsor the bill. 

Herod said it was very personal for her after experiencing racism and being called the “N” word. 

“It was time for us to act. Protesters (are) outside these doors demanding accountability,” she said.

For nearly two weeks, protesters have demanded justice for George Floyd, who was killed during an encounter with police in Minneapolis. They’re also demanding changes to the policing system in the U.S.

Across the country, the Black Lives Matter movement has been pressuring police departments to hold officers accountable.

At the hearing in Denver, the mother of Elijah McClain — who died after being injected with the sedative ketamine following an altercation with police — also testified.

“The nightmare my family has experienced at the hands of Aurora authorities is appalling and inhumane,” said Sheneen McClain. 

The bill, which has already passed the Senate, would implement a number of changes, including requiring police officers to wear body cameras, prohibiting chokeholds statewide and allowing officers to be personally sued.

Many law enforcement officers say they are pleased with the bill, but there are some concerns. 

The County Sheriffs of Colorado, the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police issued the following statement:

“We are pleased with the progress of Senate Bill 217 and look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to increase transparency and accountability. There are a few small, but needed changes, we’d like to see in SB 217 to clarify language and to ensure, for example, that operationally law enforcement agencies are able carry out the legislature’s intent and thoroughly train officers on the new requirements and procedures.”

Lawmakers and law enforcement are also beginning to find common ground on the bill. 
Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, who expressed strong concern with the legislation last week, says he now supports most of it. 

“I almost didn’t recognize the bill from what we saw a week before,” says Smith. “Some of the areas that I spoke to you about that were of great concern, they definitely listened to it.” 

Lawmakers have made more than a dozen amendments to the bill, including clarifying language about what body camera footage needs to be released to the public. 

Originally, Smith says it appeared all footage was up for grabs, including interviews with sexual assault victims and undercover investigations.

“I’m much more comfortable with the privacy of victims and unrelated parties now,” says Smith. “It’s much more protected.” 

Smith still has some logistical questions, but says the County Sheriffs of Colorado could potentially endorse the bill by the end of the week. 

“I think that’s a win for Colorado when you bring all sides together. Those demanding reform, both sides in the legislature, and your law enforcement officials. When it’s a bill we all own, it’s a bill we’re going to benefit from,” he said.

The bill’s second reading will take place Thursday. It could be on Gov. Jared Polis’ desk by the weekend.

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