Denver’s District Attorney Mitch Morrissey will not prosecute Michael Traudt, the police officer who gunned down Paul Castaway, a Native American man holding a knife to his own throat, as a recently released video shows.
Castaway was intoxicated, suicidal and threatened the officers’ safety, concluded Morrissey. It was a case of suicide-by-cop, he suggested.
“What’s wrong with you guys?” Castaway asked the officers, according to reports.
The July incident took place in a trailer park after Castaway’s mother called the police on her son for drunkenly threatening her and poking her in the neck with a knife.
In the 911 call, Castaway’s mother said her son was mentally ill and suicidal. Her main concern, though she had been “poked in the neck,” was that he would kill himself. She told the officers at the scene, prior to his death, that she did not want to press charges.
After taking the mother’s statement, officers saw Castaway and chased him down. He held a knife to his neck and told the officers to kill him.
At first, both officers took out their guns. Just as one holstered his to take out his Taser, Castaway walked toward them.
Here is Traudt’s statement to Morrissey’s office.
I was yelling for him to drop the knife. I started to back up to try to create some distance between me and him and I hit something – I ran into something, and then I stumbled over kind of a speed bump and lost my footing for a second. And he just started coming even faster and faster and he was probably five to six feet approximately, I think, from me, and he started to move the knife from his throat towards me, and he didn’t stick it out, but he brought it down, and he was walking at me just aggressively and he wouldn’t stop, and I didn’t feel like I could back up anymore. I had already almost fell down.
I knew that those kids were still behind me. They weren’t listening for me to tell them to go into the house. I – at that point when that knife came down and he was so close, I – I made the decision to shoot. I thought he was going to stab me with the knife. I thought he was going to try to kill me.
Morrissey’s conclusions were as follows:
In this investigation we are, once again, presented with a situation in which police officers are called to deal with someone who is violent, apparently suicidal, and who has an astounding combination of alcohol and controlled substances in his system. As is all too often the case, the actions and decisions of the subject place an officer who is attempting to take the subject into custody or “talk him down” in an untenable situation: a situation where the officer will, in many instances, be driven by the subject’s actions to use some degree of physical force or deadly physical force.
In this case, Castaway’s decision to turn, confront the officers and deliberately advance toward Officer Truadt, knife in hand, rather than complying with his orders, compelled Officer Traudt to shoot. The surveillance video clearly depicts Castaway moving quickly and purposefully toward Officer Traudt. Castaway’s actions and the statements he made suggest he had decided to die and further decided that Officer Traudt would be the instrument of his demise. Officer Traudt’s decision to fire his pistol was, under these circumstances objectively reasonable and appropriate. Indeed, Castaway gave him no other choice. Officer Traud’s actions are justifiable under Colorado Law and, accordingly, I will not file criminal charges against Officer Traudt.
Critics have lambasted Morrissey for never prosecuting a police officer or sheriff’s deputy for an on-duty excessive-force case in his 10 years as district attorney.
Just last Friday, his office was reprimanded by Judge Michael Martinez for failing to prosecute a sheriff’s deputy who slammed shackled inmate Anthony Waller into a courtroom wall.
Below is the DA’s justification of not pressing charges for Castaway’s killing.