A Colorado cop resigned to avoid facing discipline for pulling a gun on a black man picking up trash in front of his building.
Former Boulder police officer John Smyly will likely soon reappear in another police department as these cops always do. That is, until he spends the $80,000 he still has coming to him in accrued leave pay guaranteed by his Blue Privilege.
None of the other officers involved in the armed standoff with a 26-year-old college student named Zayd Atkinson holding a trash grabber were disciplined.
The incident took place on March 1 when Smyly was in his patrol car and spotted the 26-year-old Naroba University student sitting on a bench in a patio in front of a building housing dormitories for students.
Smyly noted that Atkinson was “manipulating an unknown object in his left hand as he held it close to his mouth,” which he found suspicious, according to the investigative report, but which internal affairs later determined was simply Atkinson eating and scrolling through his phone.
But Smyly did not know that at the time so he pulled into a driveway and observed Atkinson for a full minute. Still unable to shake that nagging feeling that Atkinson was up to no good, he stepped out of his patrol car to make what is described in the report as “consensual contact.”
It was only at this point, the report states, that Smyly noticed the color of Atkinson’s skin.
He also noticed a “private property” sign in the doorway of the building that further fueled his suspicions, he told investigators even though the video shows Atkinson at this point was standing on what appears to be a public sidewalk.
His suspicions were augmented when he observed Atkinson “holding a long metal object in his left hand and appeared to be using it to make contact with the stone benches surrounding the patio.”
Through further investigation, Smyly observed Atkinson was also holding a white bucket, so he concluded Atkinson was only picking up trash.
But Smyly still couldn’t shake that feeling Atkinson was committing a crime so he decided to probe further.
It was only then, the report states, he decided to turn on his body cam. The video is posted above.
Smyly asked Atkinson if he lived there and Atkinson said he does but when Smyly asked for his unit number, Atkinson refused to tell him.
“I don’t think I actually have to tell you that,” Atkinson said.
And that, once again, made Smyly even more suspicious so he persisted for identification. Atkinson showed him his student identification but that did not contain his address or date of birth which would have allowed the cop to search for bench warrants.
And that, of course, was the real reason he was harassing Atkinson. He didn’t really care whether he lived there because nobody from that building was complaining about Atkinson. He was just hoping to find an unpaid court fine that would have led to an easy arrest. That is Policing 101, after all.
But Atkinson knew his rights, so he wasn’t going to make it easy for the cop.
“I fucking live here, dumb ass,” he said as he continued picking up trash with the trash grabber.
“Sit down,” the cop yelled Smyly, demanding Atkinson sit on the sidewalk while he checked him for warrants.
But Atkinson ignored him, walking away, continuing to pick up trash. And Smyly followed him, calling for backup, pulling out his taser.
“You’re going to tase me outside my residence?” Atkinson asked.
“Drop that, put that down,” Smyly said, suddenly fearing for his life over the trash grabber Atkinson was holding.
When Atkinson continued to refuse, the cop threatened to taser him because “you have a weapon,” he told him.
But Atkinson went on his way, continuing to pick up trash, not showing any signs of fear, which further infuriated Smyly.
Before long, Atkinson found himself surrounded by eight cops from two agencies; an armed standoff against a man with a trash grabber who was only trying to keep his living area clean.
Read the passage below from the internal affairs report to see how easy it can be for an innocent black man to be killed by police for simply trying to live his life.
And to see how an incident like this can escalate to another needless death of a black man, read the passage below from the internal affairs investigative report.
As Mr. Atkinson walked away, the subject officer followed from a distance. During this period, the subject officer repeatedly asked Mr. Atkinson to stop and advised him that he was obstructing a police officer. Mr. Atkinson raised his voice and yelled. The subject officer reported that he felt threatened by the trash grabber and drew his Taser and later transitioned to his handgun, both weapons were pointed in a downward direction in front of the officer. Neither weapon was ever pointed at Mr. Atkinson. The subject officer said that he did not believe that the taser would be effective, because Mr. Atkinson was wearing a heavy coat. He drew his handgun after Mr. Atkinson stopped behind the building out of site of the street. During this period, the officer was alone with Mr. Atkinson. All of the additional officers responding reported that they believed this to be a serious situation because of what they knew from the radio traffic. There was an uncooperative person who was Page 3 of 4 heard with a raised voice or yelling in the background, failing to comply and carrying a weapon (a blunt metal object). Eight officers and one supervisor responded. One of the officers was from the University of Colorado Police Department (CUPD). All of the officers that responded to this call believed the trash grabber could be used as a weapon, based on its material and length, if it was used to strike at another person.
As cover officers arrived, they took up positions at a safe distance away forming a perimeter around Mr. Atkinson. Another officer arrived with his handgun drawn but holstered it in approximately 30 seconds. Two officers attempted to deescalate the situation by speaking to Mr. Atkinson in a calm manner. One officer had a Taser out as he arrived but never pointed it at Mr. Atkinson. He holstered his Taser early on while reasoning with Mr. Atkinson to drop his trash grabber, which he did. The subject officer holstered his handgun after Mr. Atkinson put down the trash grabber. No weapons were ever pointed at Mr. Atkinson. The responding sergeant brought a shield and a shotgun loaded with bean bags, based on the information that an uncooperative subject was armed with a “blunt metal object.” The sergeant did so, consistent with department training and practice to bring resources and tools to the call to provide alternatives to lethal force. The less-lethal shotgun was never pointed at Mr. Atkinson and the sergeant tried to keep it out of sight and behind his back.
Another officer was able to gain access through the back door of the building they were standing next to and talk with residents inside. That officer confirmed that Mr. Atkinson lived in the building and passed that information on to the Sergeant on-scene. Around the same time, information that Mr. Atkinson was a resident was confirmed with a Naropa employee who arrived on-scene. The Sergeant conferred with the subject officer who initiated the contact and instructed him to return Mr. Atkinson’s Naropa ID. Mr. Atkinson was not cited for any violation and officers cleared the scene at 8:52 a.m. The entire contact lasted 22 minutes.
A video that was posted on YouTube did not capture the first nine minutes of the contact. A statement made in the video that eight officers pointed guns at Mr. Atkinson is contrary to information developed during the investigation and depicted on body worn camera video. The voice captured on the video telling Mr. Atkinson that he was probably racially profiled came from a Naropa employee. Department Policy A
The City of Boulder released the following statement Thursday:
The investigation found that one officer, John Smyly, violated two police department policies. It found no evidence to support a claim of racial profiling. While the finding likely would have resulted in suspension or possibly termination, Officer Smyly resigned prior to the conclusion of the disciplinary process.
The two policy violations he committed was breaking whatever trust is left between Boulder police and the black community and embarrassing the police department, causing it to lose credibility.