Colorado Cop Resigns After Pulling Gun on Black Student Picking Up Trash Outside His Residence

Colorado police officer John Smyly who pulled his gun on Zayd Atkinson, a student at Naropa University picking up trash in front of his apartment building, has resigned.

In a statement released on Thursday, The city of Boulder announced that an investigation found that Smyly violated two police department policies:

“On March 1, Officer Smyly approached Zayd Atkinson, 26, at his residence to investigate a possible trespass. Mr. Atkinson was picking up trash on his property and had not committed a crime. The encounter led to allegations of racial profiling and police misconduct. While no one was arrested, the police department launched an internal affairs investigation, and the city hired an outside investigator to review the incident.”

The police department has also released all related body camera footage.

The city of Boulder said there’s “no evidence to support a claim of racial profiling,” but the incident makes one question why Smyly felt the need to even approach Atkinson?

The officer ‘decided to self-initiate contact with Mr. Atkinson’

According to the incident summary, the reason Smyly decided to monitor the student is that “he saw Mr. Atkinson manipulating an unknown object in his left hand as he held it close to his mouth,” prompting him to “drive closer to Mr. Atkinson to see what he was doing.”

However, the internal affairs investigation included a review of a video from a building-mounted camera, which revealed Atkinson was eating food and using his mobile phone.

John Smyly

“During his interview, the subject officer stated that at this point, he was unaware of Mr. Atkinson’s race, because he had only seen him from a distance and approached him from behind,” the incident summary states.

“As the subject officer got closer, he could also see that Mr. Atkinson was picking items up off the ground with the long metal object [a trash grabber] and placing them into a white bucket that he was holding. Mr. Atkinson was picking up trash.

“The subject officer then activated his body camera and decided to self-initiate contact with Mr. Atkinson to determine what he was doing and if he lived or worked there. The subject officer notified dispatch and initiated what he described as a consensual contact.”

Smyly asked Atkinson if he was permitted to be in the location. Atkinson told the officer that he lived in the building and showed him his school identification card. But Smyly kept insisting Atkinson tell him his unit number, wanting further proof that he lived there.

“Smyly updated dispatch that Mr. Atkinson was failing to comply and had a blunt metal object, referring to the trash grabber, in his hands,” the report states.

“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.”

Smyly said he felt “threatened by the trash grabber.” He drew his Taser “and later transitioned to his handgun, both weapons were pointed in a downward direction in front of the officer.”

“The subject officer said that he did not believe that the Taser would be effective, because Mr. Atkinson was wearing a heavy coat,” the summary states. “He drew his handgun after Mr. Atkinson stopped behind the building out of sight of the street. During this period, the officer was alone with Mr. Atkinson.”

‘I’m picking up trash and you’re holding a gun’

Zayd Atkinson

A cellphone video shot by a neighbor that went viral in March showed Smyly holding his weapon amid the confrontation. If it were not for that cellphone footage, would there have been an internal investigation?

“That’s a gun,” Zayd Atkinson said, according to the body camera footage. “I’m picking up trash. I’m picking up trash and you’re holding a gun.”

He asked Smyly if he would fire the weapon if he didn’t put the trash grabber down.

“If you use that weapon against me then yes, that is a consideration,” Smyly responded.

Atkinson was detained by Smyly for further investigation and he made a call for backup.

“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,” the report states.

The officers arrived and later left after they determined Atkinson had the right to be there.

“I thought that once the firearm was out that that meant that he was going to try to kill me,” Atkinson said on “Good Morning America” in April. “It was a frightening experience. I didn’t know what else to do besides, you know, to fight with my voice and to practice my rights, which were thoroughly being breached.”

The city of Boulder stated, that “while the finding likely would have resulted in suspension or possibly termination, Officer Smyly resigned prior to the conclusion of the disciplinary process.”

John Smyly’s resignation agreement with the city was negotiated by City Attorney Tom Carr, who “explained that the resignation immediately removes Officer Smyly from law enforcement and prevents his reinstatement to the Boulder Police Department.”


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