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Interview With Family of Boy Shot By Denver Police

Aired July 8, 2003 - 20:18   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The second act of violence we referred to at the start of the hour is sparking some outrage in Denver. Tonight, dramatic 911 tapes reveal what happened when a policeman shot and killed a mentally disabled boy. His family calls it overreaction, unjustified. Community activists are outraged. Police view it differently.
Here's Frank Buckley.


FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Paul Childs had a knife in his hands and was following his mother around their home when his 16-year-old sister, Ashley, called 911.


ASHLEY CHILDS, SISTER OF PAUL: My brother has a knife, and he's trying to stab my mother with it.


BUCKLEY: The dispatcher asks for more information.


DISPATCHER: Does he do this often?

A. CHILDS: No. He's just being...

DISPATCHER: OK, that's fine. I don't need the story.


BUCKLEY: Ashley says she was cut off before she could say that her brother was mentally disabled. The recording continued as the dispatcher talked with Ashley and as police confronted Paul and then shot him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are shots fired. Ambulance code...


BUCKLEY: The death of the teenager has been devastating to his family and friends.

(on camera): Amid the grief over the death of Paul Childs, there is also a simmering anger here in the community where he lived, Park Hill. In this predominantly African-American community, some have even suggested that, if Paul Childs had been white, police wouldn't have been so quick to shoot.

REV. REGINALD HOLMES, DENVER MINISTERS GROUP: We see a pattern. It's disturbing. I think it's creating among a lot of the folks in the community a great deal of anger. And so we're sitting on a powder keg right now.

BUCKLEY (voice-over): Reverend Reginald Holmes is the president of a group of ministers trying to bring about change in some police policies, while also trying to help diffuse the tension. He says that, if city officials respond to community concerns in good faith, it will represent progress.

HOLMES: I think it's going to quell a lot of the anger, a lot of the disappointment.

BUCKLEY: Police Chief Gerald Whitman has met with community leaders and says he will continue to work with them. But he points out that the 911 call indicates the family called police because they needed help.

GERALD WHITMAN, DENVER POLICE CHIEF: We're obligated to actually go in there and save lives when we need to. And that appears how this came down at the beginning. And that's -- then we have to look at each decision point along the way to make sure that we did the best decision-making that we could.

BUCKLEY: During a tragic confrontation in this home that led to the death of a 15-year-old boy.

Frank Buckley, CNN, Denver.


ZAHN: And we asked representatives of the Denver Police Department to join us tonight to discuss the case. They declined.

Joining me from Stapleton, Colorado, are Paul Childs' mother, Helen, his sister Ashley Childs, and his uncle, Michael Thompson.

We appreciate your joining us at such a difficult time for your family.

I would like to start with you, Ashley, tonight. We just heard that chilling 911 tape, when you basically told police: "My brother has a knife. He's trying to stab my mother with it." Were you afraid your brother was going to kill your mother?


ZAHN: What did you think might happen? A. CHILDS: I didn't think anything was going to happen. I just wanted the police to try to come and calm him down.

ZAHN: And, Mrs. Childs, how afraid were you?

HELEN CHILDS, MOTHER OF PAUL: I wasn't afraid at all.

ZAHN: But, obviously, you were in a situation where you felt you needed some kind of outside party to help you out, right?

H. CHILDS: The reason why the police were called is because Paul thought the police was his friend and he trusted the police. And we were calling the police to calm him down, just to calm him down, not for them to come and do what they did.

ZAHN: And, Ashley, is it true that you were somehow cut off by the dispatcher as you wanted to further explain what was going on in your home?


ZAHN: And do you think that happened on purpose, or do you think that that was just because the dispatcher wanted to get somebody on the case right away?

A. CHILDS: I think it happened because he just probably didn't want to hear what I had to say.

ZAHN: Was there any other situation you can remember where any member of your family was frightened by your brother?


ZAHN: And, Mrs. Childs, had you ever seen your son grab a knife before?

H. CHILDS: No. It was the first time he ever did that.

ZAHN: I know this is really difficult for you to talk about it. I know that you have talked openly about his disability. Was there something in particular that upset him that day?


ZAHN: Michael, I'd love to bring you into this conversation.

What happened next is murky. The police maintain, when they came to your relatives' home, they asked Paul to drop this knife twice, that he didn't respond. Describe to us, based on what your family members have told you, what happened next.


From what I understand, the police came to the home and they had asked Paul to drop the knife twice. He didn't drop it. I understand that one of the officers, one of the four officers there that had their gun drawn had said, "Use a taser, use a taser." And right after he said use the taser the second time, there were several gunshots.

ZAHN: Mrs. Childs, I know this might be difficult to answer because you were inside the house at that time, but there is a rule that the police, if they feel threatened, are allowed to discharge a weapon, if they were within some 20-odd yards of a person they feel threatened by. Can you tell us, based on what anybody else has told you, how far away the officer was at the time that your son was shot?

H. CHILDS: He was pretty close. But my son was just standing there. He didn't lunge out at the cop. He just stood there scared. So I don't see how the officer felt threatened, because my son didn't show no gestures of him to feel threatened. He wasn't being violent. He was just standing there scared.

ZAHN: While the police, as you just heard in that Frank Buckley piece, say they are continuing to investigate this and the procedures that were used on the scene, there are people in your community, Michael, who are suggesting that this shooting was racially motivated. Do you believe that to be the case?

THOMPSON: I don't know if this was racially motivated or not. I do know that the officers should have not shot Paul. There are -- the officers had choices. Just like we have a choice every day to wake up and either go to work or wake up and either stay home, the officers had a choice to either shoot Paul or to -- or either use the electrical devices that they had there.

But, instead of them choosing that choice, they chose the choice to shoot. So I don't know if this is racially motivated.

ZAHN: And just a final question to Mrs. Childs.

Do you think the outcome might have been different if the police officers knew that your son was in some way compromised?

H. CHILDS: They knew. They knew my son. They knew my son. Most of the officers in the area knew my son, because they've brought him home plenty of times. They -- he -- when they bring him home, he would ask them for their little cards, and he kept them. So they knew.

ZAHN: Yes. I guess this is a young man that was known to wander off at times.

Helen Childs, Ashley Childs, Michael Thompson, thank you very much for your time. Just a reminder -- and good luck to your family at this time of need.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

H. CHILDS: Thank you.

A. CHILDS: Thank you.

ZAHN: And we do want to make it clear that we did contact the Denver Police Department to try to get a representative to come on and join us tonight. They are investigating this. So far, they maintain that the police officers appeared to be following routine standards here.


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