Why is it so hard to get police records in Colorado?

CU News Corps: On the night of January 15, 2015, Aurora Police Department officers shot and killed Kavonda Payton.

Local news reports from the Denver Post and 7News covered the shooting the day after, but did not follow the story beyond that. Westword did a brief follow-up article about Payton and reactions from friends and family. None of these outlets attempted to seek out or analyze police reports or other records to try to reconstruct the shooting.

According to the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s report of the shooting released eight months later, the incident began with an armed robbery at a convenience store and led to a high-speed car chase. After winding through the streets of northern Aurora for a few miles, officers used their patrol cars to ram the suspect vehicle into a ditch. One of the suspects, Payton, tried to flee from the wrecked vehicle by foot. In their reports, every officer reports seeing Payton pointing a gun in their direction before they shot him. After investigating, the DA concluded the officers’ shooting was justified, and filed no charges. This report remains the only official account of what happened that night.

Yet even that report raises questions and omits details; such as how officers were able to so clearly see a handgun in Payton’s right hand in the pitch-black darkness of the dirt road, or how Payton was shot three times in the back while turning to point a gun at officers, or why there is a discrepancy between officer accounts about which hand Payton was holding the gun with.

Raising these issues does not refute the report, nor assert that Payton’s shooting is unjustified. They address a broader point: transparency and access to police records. During the investigation, the public were unable to access records of Payton’s shooting, due in large part to the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act (CCJRA).

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