Denver police officer fatally shot a man she thought held a knife, but it was a marker

Aug 15, 2023, 6:10 PM

This image provided by Denver Police Department shows police body-worn camera video footage of a po...

This image provided by Denver Police Department shows police body-worn camera video footage of a police encounter with Brandon Cole, on Aug. 5, 2023 in Denver. Investigators say the police officer fatally shot Cole, who she thought was armed with a knife, when he lunged at her, but he was holding only a black marker. (Denver Police Department via AP)

(Denver Police Department via AP)

DENVER (AP) — When officers responded to a domestic violence call Aug. 5, Brandon Cole reached into a vehicle and then soon after rushed toward one of them, police said. Thinking he was holding a knife, the officer fired twice, killing him.

As it turned out, the object in his hand was a black marker.

“This is a tremendous tragedy,” Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said during a news conference Monday as police released graphic body-camera video of the shooting, which is still being investigated.

A neighbor had called 911 to report potential domestic violence involving Cole, 36, his wife and his teenage son. The caller reported that the woman may have been pushed out of her wheelchair and that Cole was “going after” his son, Cmdr. Matt Clark said.

The footage shows a woman sitting on the street next to a wheelchair. “Don’t, don’t pull your gun out on my husband, please,” she says.

Cole seems agitated as he says “let’s go” to an officer who calls to him using his first name. That officer tries to hit Cole with a stun gun, but only one probe makes contact.

Cole moves quickly around a parked car toward the other officer, raising his hands to chest level, but what he is holding isn’t clear in the video. She fires her handgun at him, and he collapses on the sidewalk.

A woman and a young child seen behind Cole in the video were not injured. They were not involved in the call to police.

“You can see in the video that when she finally deploys her duty weapon, the person is so close to her that the view of the young child and other person are not even clear to her,” Thomas said. “Certainly that was a consideration, but it was just there was not much time to act before she was overrun by that individual.”

The results of the investigation will be given to the Denver District Attorney’s Office, which will decide if the officer should face any criminal charges. After that, police will do an investigation to determine if department policies were followed.

Based on how Cole is acting in the video, including seeming to conceal one of his hands behind his back, two experts in police use of force said the officer seemed to act reasonably in response to someone she believed to have a knife and intended to hurt her.

“I would have taken that shot,” said Ed Obayashi, a use-of-force consultant to law enforcement agencies and a deputy sheriff and legal adviser in Plumas County, California.

Seth Stoughton, a professor at the University of Carolina School of Law and a former police officer, also thought it was reasonable for the officer to believe Cole had a knife. However, he said officials needed to look at the positioning of the bystanders and whether they were put in danger by the shots she fired.

“Sometimes the appropriate thing to do is get injured or even killed to prevent an injury or death of an innocent bystander,” he said.

The name of the officer who shot Cole has not been released. She has been with the department since 2019 and has not been involved in any other shootings.

Ebony Cole, the man’s wife, has not spoken with investigators, and police have not been able to determine if any domestic violence had occured, Clark and Thomas said.

“That man was a good man. He didn’t deserve to be killed,” Ebony Cole said when reached Tuesday. “They didn’t have to kill him.”

She declined to say more.

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Denver police officer fatally shot a man she thought held a knife, but it was a marker