DENVER (AP) — A grand jury will investigate the death of a 22-year-old Colorado man who was shot by police after calling 911 for roadside assistance while experiencing what his mother described as a mental health crisis.
The development announced by prosecutors late Wednesday comes after the parents of Christian Glass last month called for accountability, saying they believe officers needlessly escalated the June 10 situation in the small mountain town of Silver Plume west of Denver, leading to their son’s death.
Glass’ death has become the latest flashpoint amid a national outcry for police reforms focused on crisis intervention, de-escalation and alternative policing programs. In Denver and New York, behavioral health specialists are sent to 911 callers facing crises that police may not be trained to address or could exacerbate.
During a September news conference, Sally Glass said her son suffered from depression, had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and was “having a mental health episode” during his interaction with the police. Glass said her son was “petrified” and “paralyzed” by fear the night he was killed.
In a statement, Glass’ parents welcomed the grand jury investigation, saying the “wheels of justice are turning in the right direction.”
“There is not an hour that passes that we do not think about our gentle son Christian Glass. We are expecting accountability for those involved in his murder,” Sally and Simon Glass said.
The new probe was announced by Fifth Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum, who said the grand jury was empaneled Tuesday and will meet several times during November.
The shooting has already been investigated by a team of agencies led by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. The results of such investigations are usually not released until after prosecutors decide whether to pursue charges.
“This is a step in the right direction, but the community has a long way to go to get justice for Christian,” said Siddhartha Rathod, attorney for Glass’ parents.
Glass called the police because his car had become stuck on an embankment late on June 10. Body camera videos show Glass refusing to get out of his car while telling police he is “terrified” and making heart shapes with his hands to officers.
Officers talked to him to try to persuade him to leave the car. After more than an hour of negotiations, police said Glass was being uncooperative and they broke the passenger window and removed a knife from the vehicle.
Glass offered to throw two knives out of the window but the video shows officers telling him not to.
Once the window was shattered, Glass seemed to panic and grabbed a second knife. Police then shot Glass with bean bag rounds and shocked him with a stun gun. The footage shows Glass twisting in his seat and thrusting a knife toward an officer who approaches the rear driver window. Then another officer fired his gun, hitting Glass six times, according to the autopsy report.
Use-of-force and de-escalation experts who reviewed the footage for The Associated Press said this case is an example of when a behavioral health specialist or crisis response team — programs becoming increasingly popular across the country — may have helped de-escalate the situation and avert Glass’ death.
The grand jury can issue subpoenas compelling people to testify under oath, and review the evidence already gathered. If the evidence warrants it, they can issue an indictment, McCollum said.
“It is imperative that we reach the right decision and not rush into judgement — in fairness to the family of the victim, and those involved with and impacted by Christian’s death. Most of all, I am absolutely committed to seeking justice in this case,” she said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis offered his condolences last month during a private meeting with Glass’ parents.
While Taylor Pendergrass, director of advocacy at the ACLU of Colorado, applauds the grand jury investigation, he said he believes the body camera footage is evidence enough for the district attorney to have skipped the grand jury and brought indictments directly.
“They created and then escalated a confrontation that, if they had just walked away from, would have been resolved,” he said, “this was an entirely preventable death.”
Clear Creek County, where the shooting occurred, is in the early stages of developing an alternative policing program.
County Commissioner Randy Wheelock said the Glass case was one of many nationwide that encouraged authorities to “try to increase the level of resources available.”
The Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.