Beginning July 1, 2023 law enforcement agencies across Colorado will be required to outfit their officers with body worn cameras. The camera mandate portion of Colorado’s historic policing legislation SB20-2017 requires prompt release of video footage and lengthy video storage. In a special series, investigative reporter Rob Low and producer Carisa Scott look in depth at how the law is affecting the state’s law enforcement agencies.
DENVER (KDVR) — There may be no single person in Colorado who relies on body camera footage more than Denver District Attorney Beth McCann.
It’s helped her reach decisions in 37 officer-involved shootings since she was elected in 2016, with two more still under investigation.
“I would say it’s very critical. Before we had the body worn camera, it was one person’s word against another,” she said.
The two-term district attorney has never charged a Denver officer with wrongdoing for shooting someone and she said bodycam is a big reason why.
“As the prosecutor, we have to disprove self-defense if you will. The defendant has no burden of proof,” McCann said.
Body cameras allows her to see what officers face in the field frame by frame.
“It was very helpful. You really can get a sense of what these officers were confronting and how fearful they were of injury or death,” she told the Problem Solvers.
McCann agreed to share her thoughts about the fatal police shooting 52-year-old Raul Rosas-Zarsosa on May 19. Police were responding to a 911 call of a man cutting himself with a razor near the corner of Federal Boulevard and Harvard Avenue.
Bodycam video shows officers Jordan Archuleta and Katie Phillips taking cover behind a patrol car as Rosas-Zarsosa approaches with a razor in his hand despite commands for him to stop.
Phillips fired multiple pepper balls at him, but they had no effect and he kept walking towards the officers.
On the body cam, Phillips can be heard repeatedly saying, “Get back, get back, get back” before she shoots Rosas-Zarsosa four times at the exact moment Archuleta fires his taser weapon with Rosas-Zarsosa approaching within 20 feet or less of Archuleta.
“It gave me a really good perspective on how quickly this transpired and how he was coming at them with the knife held up in his hand,” McCann said.
In July, she cleared Phillips of wrongdoing, saying she had a legal right to defend not only herself but her fellow officer who was standing close to Rosa-Zarsosa at the time he was shot.
The district attorney said the perspective helped her reach her decision not to charge Phillips.
“It gave you a sense of how fearful she was that either she or her partner was going to be stabbed or injured,” said McCann.
Since she took the job, McCann has made it her policy to personally visit with the family of every person shot by Denver Police to talk to them about her decision on whether charges were warranted or not.
“It’s the worst part of my job. Anytime you have to meet with the family of someone who has been killed in this way it’s really, really difficult. Especially when it’s at the hands of police officers who you know are sworn to serve and protect,” McCann said. “I made the decision that I owed it to the family of someone who was shot by police to sit down with them and go through the evidence allow them to see the body worn camera and explain my decision to them.”
She said having the footage that is shared with the public on a Denver Police YouTube page offers transparency, “I think it’s an important tool to increase public trust.”
Denver Police first began using body cams in 2015. Colorado lawmakers have passed legislation that will mandate all law enforcement agencies in Colorado equip their officers or deputies with by body cams by July 1, 2023.