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Denver Police Shooting Raises Controversy

Aired July 7, 2003 - 20:35   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: A community is in Denver an uproar tonight after a fatal shooting. Police shot and killed 15-year-old Paul Childs as he was holding a knife in the doorway of his home. The boy was mentally disabled. He also happened to be an African- American. And police say they had gotten a report of a teen threatening his family with a knife and they were not told he was disabled.
But the boy's mother says she never felt as if she was in any danger. And the police were called simply to talk with the boy. Now, some witnesses are saying the shooting may have been racially motivated.

LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES contacted the Denver police. We invited them to join us tonight. They declined. We also called them a couple of times to respond to the racial accusations. Those phone calls were not returned either.

Alvertis Simmons is a spokesman for the child's family. He joins me now from Denver.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight, sir. First of all...


ZAHN: How is mom doing tonight?

SIMMONS: Mother is not doing very well at all. She is bereaving and she's crying and she's hurt, and as well as anyone would be if they had lost a child in that fashion.

ZAHN: What went wrong here? Why was there such a misunderstanding about this phone call that was made?

SIMMONS: Well, after sitting down, talking to the family, what I think went wrong is, first of all, the dispatcher. He did not allow the young lady to tell him that Paul was mentally disabled. He just cut her off, and so -- the police dispatcher. And so all the information he got was a young man with a knife in the home.

And so, therefore, when the police got there, they were not knowing that this guy, this young man was mentally disabled. And so they automatically come with their guns drawn and ready for some action.

ZAHN: But based on what you're telling us tonight, isn't that understandable? They arrive at a home. They've gotten a phone call that a mother seems to be in some kind of danger. They arrive at the home, if this is true, what you're saying, and they don't have any way of knowing that this child is in fact disabled and...

SIMMONS: Well, what I'm saying is, they should have -- they should have taken their time when they came into that home.

What they did is, they came with their guns drawn. They came in a black community. They got a call from a black family. They come in a black community. Their guns were drawn. And the Denver police themselves have a 21-foot policy that says that, we won't do anything lethal if you -- if you are 21 feet away from the police officer. But this kid was -- he wasn't even in the 21-foot realm of Denver police officers.


ZAHN: What was he doing when police arrived, can you describe, based on eyewitness accounts of what his behavior was at the time that police arrived?

SIMMONS: His mother said he was standing in the doorway with the knife in his left hand in an upright position, in an upright position. He was not threatening anyone. He was not -- he was not making any threatening gestures. He was just standing there. And then, when the police came in with their guns drawn, he froze. He froze.

And then the police officers said, put your gun down -- I'm sorry -- put your knife down, put your knife down. They told that to him twice. And then one of the officers said, shoot him with the taser. And then the next thing the eyewitnesses knew, there was shots that rang out, four shots that killed the young man.

ZAHN: Can you describe to us if Paul Childs' mother ever felt threatened in the past by her son?


ZAHN: And how obvious would his disability have been to anybody else?

SIMMONS: As you can look on the -- the picture you have on the screen, you can see that Paul looks -- look at him. You can see right there that there is not -- something just not quite right with this kid. So -- but the kid was a loving kid, a wonderful kid.

All the neighbors -- we have done our due diligence. We have knocked on every door, talked to the neighbors, talked to the eyewitnesses. We talked to his coaches from East High School. We talked to them. They all said that this kid was a good kid. It took him a while to understand things, but he still was a good kid.

Even my daughter said, Tylae (ph), my daughter says, hey, this kid was the type of kid that talked to her and others and kind of like hitting on them, kind of. So he was a jovial young man.

ZAHN: Finally, though, tonight, Mr. Simmons, your charge that this was racially motivated in some way is a packed one. Is it possible, are you willing to concede that there might have been a circumstance where any police officer walking into the situation might have felt that someone inside that home might have been in danger?

SIMMONS: Can't concede it. And I'll tell you why, Paula: because this same police officer shot another black kid by the name of Greg Smith (ph) two years ago, the same police officer who shot Paul. So we can't concede that it wasn't racism.

And just let me say this to you. Had that been a white kid, the question must be asked, would that -- those police officers, would they have shot that kid had he been white in Cherry Hills, which is in the suburbs of Denver? Yet they shot this kid in northeast Denver because he was poor, he was black, and he lived in Park Hill. You got to ask those questions.

ZAHN: Well, those are certainly questions I can't answer tonight, but certainly questions that are being debated in the whole Denver community.

Alvertis Simmons, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Once again, we made repeated attempts to get some kind of feedback from the Denver Police Department to no avail.


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