Denver’s top public safety official and its police watchdog say they are opening investigations into a police search at Rise Up Community School during which police officers are accused of drawing weapons on a staff member as they looked for a student who was not on campus.
“I have heard the concerns from the community and Independent Monitor regarding the incident that occurred at Rise Up Community School and an administration investigation was opened this morning to review the incident,” Troy Riggs, executive director of the Department of Safety, said in a prepared statement.
Nick Mitchell, Denver’s independent monitor, also said his office will participate in the investigation.
“We have heard the concerns in the community and will be actively monitoring the DPD’s investigation into this incident to ensure that it is conducted thoroughly and fairly,” Mitchell wrote in a statement.
Rise Up’s principal, Lucas Ketzer, said multiple officers drew their firearms on a staff member who was checking a back door to look for students as police surrounded the downtown Denver school and conducted a classroom-by-classroom search for a pupil who was wanted in connection with a shooting in Lakewood.
Denver Police Department denied officers pointed their guns at anyone while inside the school.
On Wednesday, the police department, Denver Public Schools and Ketzer and some of his students offered their versions of events, and there were conflicting accounts about the April 24 incident.
Officers pushed a science teacher away from her classroom door after she told officers they could not search her room without a warrant, Ketzer said. Officers also compared students to a photo of a juvenile wanted for attempted first-degree murder, pulled students out of their chairs, removed their hats and asked them for their ID’s as they searched, he said.
Denver police said they received information that the suspect, a student wanted on a charge of attempted first-degree murder, was in the school and posed a possible threat to students and staff.
Officers set up outside the school to make sure the suspect did not leave, and they coordinated with the principal to gain access before searching. Because a staff member confirmed the suspect was in attendance and posed an immediate threat, a warrant was not needed to conduct a search, police said.
Ketzer, however, said police only told him the student may have been involved in a shooting. Ketzer told police the student was not in class and had left the campus.
Police said they did not believe him and about 15 minutes later more police as well officers from Denver Public Schools’ Department of Safety officers had arrived and wanted to search the building. The school district’s chief of safety allowed the classroom search because there was conflicting information about the possibility of an armed student on campus, according to a Denver Public School statement.
The incident has caused an uproar among Latino, black and Native American activists who believe it is one more example of how young minorities suffer from discrimination within the judicial and education systems. They have described it as “police overreach.”
But law enforcement and school officials also view the incident through the prism of school safety, and mass shootings this year in schools in Florida and Kentucky.
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