DENVER – District Attorney Beth McCann found that the officer who shot and killed William Debose outside of the Corky Gonzales Library branch on May 1 should not face criminal charges, she wrote in a letter issued Thursday.
McCann wrote that Denver Police Corporal Ethan Antonson was justified in shooting Debose, 21, because he acted in self-defense believing that Debose was about to shoot him because of the manner in which Debose moved his arm as he ran from Antonson and another officer and because Antonson saw the muzzle of a gun coming from Debose’s hand moments before the shooting.
McCann’s office also released body camera footage and screengrabs from the incident that she says shows that Debose had a weapon when he was shot, and the report also says that officers found a fully-loaded Taurus 9mm handgun next to Debose right after he was shot. The video of the shooting can be seen below. (Caution: Graphic)
“At the time he fired the shots Corporal Antonson reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of being killed or of receiving great bodily injury by use of deadly force against him. The gun in Mr. Debose’s hand easily could have killed Corporal Antonson if Mr. Debose had been able to shoot first,” McCann wrote. “For these reasons, Corporal Antonson had a lawful and justifiable claim of self-defense.”
“Indeed, the chase and shooting lasted less [than] ten seconds,” she added. “Corporal Antonson had to make a split-second judgment while running at full speed. His judgment that Mr. Debose was pointing a handgun at him and about to kill him was reasonable; therefore, it was reasonable and lawfully justified for Corporal Antonson to defend himself with deadly physical force under Colorado statutes.”
McCann said in a statement that Debose’s family declined to meet with her but that she “had hoped to extend my deepest sympathy” to them for the loss of Debose.
Her office said that she will hold a community meeting on Microsoft Teams on Wednesday, June 24, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. to discuss the conclusions with the public.
Attorney Birk Baumgartner, who is representing the family, told Denver7 before the video and letter were released that he did not believe he had seen video that showed Debose carrying a weapon and that he questioned the autopsy report issued by the coroner’s office, which said the fatal shot was a gunshot wound to his upper right chest that went through Debose’s right, then left lung and out his upper-left back. Debose was also shot in the left thigh.
Baumgartner said that he believes Debose did not want to stop his vehicle during an attempted traffic stop that night because he was with his wife and they were at the time prohibited from being in contact with one another because of a prior domestic disturbance.
After Debose stopped his vehicle at the library after allegedly fleeing the first stop and parked it in the library’s parking lot, where it had been followed by DPD’s helicopter. Officers were dispatched to the area, and after Debose and his wife got out of the vehicle, Antonson told them to put their hands in the air and “just stay right there for me,” according to McCann’s report.
At first, Debose put his hands up, according to McCann. But he then started to run, according to the body camera video and report. Shortly afterward, the report says Debose pulled the handgun as he ran, “rotated his arms toward Corporal Antonson.”
Antonson told Debose, “On the ground,” and fired at him just afterward, according to the video. A sound is heard on the video that McCann wrote is a “metallic ‘clank’” and the report says that officers found the gun next to him just afterward.
McCann said in a statement that she supports ongoing efforts to produce more police accountability in the wake of nationwide protests following the police killing of another black man, George Floyd. But she said that Antonson was justified in shooting Debose.
“I have and will continue to support Black Lives Matter and I recognize the immediate need to examine police practices as well as prosecution and judicial practices,” she said. “However, in this case, Corporal Antonson had a reasonable belief that he was defending himself from the imminent use of deadly physical force and Colorado law allows peace officers to use deadly physical force under these circumstances.”
The Denver Police Department said that Antonson has been with the department since 2005 and is currently part of the Gang Unit. Both officers involved in the shooting have returned from administrative leave and its internal investigation is ongoing, the department said.
Hundreds of people marched through Denver last week calling for justice in Debose’s shooting, and further demonstrations got underway Thursday afternoon, with protesters marching in the streets on Denver to McCann's office, calling for her to resign.
Denver7's Ivan Rodriguez contributed to this report.