Colorado Cop Who Detained Black College Student Picking Up Trash Outside His Building Resigns But Will Receive $69K In Pay

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A police officer in Boulder, Colo., has stepped down after a department investigation found he violated two rules when he followed, questioned  and threatened to pull a gun on a Black man picking up trash outside his apartment.

Officer John Smyly resigned Wednesday ahead of a planned administrative  hearing into his confrontation involving Naropa University student Zayd Atkinson in March, CBS Denver reported. The incident, captured on video, sparked swift outrage and prompted allegations of racial profiling by police.

Zayd Atkinson
Zayd Atkinson, 26, was stopped and questioned by Boulder police as he was picking up trash outside his apartment building. (Boulder Police Department / video screenshot)

The Boulder Police Department on Thursday released body camera video, dispatch tapes and a police report related to the incident after wrapping up their internal investigation. It found that while Smyly, who boasted a clean disciplinary record, had violated conduct, police authority and public trust, there was no evidence he racially profiled Atkinson, 26.

The department added that Smyly did not have probable cause to charge the college student with obstructing a police officer, or any other crime.

“The subject officer’s decision to attempt [to] detain Mr. Atkinson was not 
supported by reasonable suspicion that Mr. Atkinson was committing, had committed or was about to commit a crime,” according to BPD. “Therefore he did not have authority to detain Mr. Atkinson.”

In a summary of its investigation, the Boulder police wrote that the “officer should’ve ended his contact with Mr. Atkinson after Mr. Atkinson provided his name, address and a brief description of what he was doing.”

Other officers who responded to the incident were cleared of wrongdoing, the report stated.

The confrontation unfolded March 1 as Smyly was patrolling the area near Folsom Street and Arapahoe Avenue in response to recent crimes including bike theft, burglary and trespass at an orthodontics office. That’s when he spotted Atkinson outside an apartment building picking up trash.

After noticing a “Private Property” sign near the front of the building, the officer asked Atkinson if he lived there. The man said he did, but Smyly questioned him further, asking for his address and what he was doing there.

“I’m just checking to make sure you have a right to be here, that’s all,” the officer says in the video.

When Smyly asks Atkinson what unit he lives in, the student responds: “I don’t think I actually have to tell you that.” He instead gave the officer his student ID, confirming his identity.

That did little to satisfy Smyly, who proceeded to ask him several questions.  Atkinson, who had a trash grabber in hand, ignored the officer, walked off and continued his curbside clean up. The officer then follows him around, asking more questions and ordering him to “sit down!”

Smyly soon calls for backup, telling dispatch the suspect was refusing to comply and was armed with “a blunt metal object,” referring to the trash grabber. As the situation grows more tense, Smyly informs Atkinson that he’s obstructing a police officer and threatens to detain him. He also says Atkinson is being investigated for trespassing.

At one point, the officer  threatens to use his taser if Atkinson doesn’t comply.

“You’re an idiot!” an angry Atkinson shouts back. “Why would you think that you could tase me? I’m freaking picking up trash on my property. I’m not doing anything illegal, and you’re not going to f—–g tase me, officer.”

It was not long before seven additional officers, including a sergeant, arrive to the scene, some of them with their weapons drawn. The tense standoff ends after 22 minutes — only after a neighbor confirms Atkinson does indeed live there.

“I was not going to just fall in line again and just be a dog,” he told CBS Denver of the incident, though he admits he was afraid that Smyly might tase him.

Atkinson was not cited in the incident.

As for Smyly, the terms of his resignation agreement allow him to remain employed with Boulder Police until Feb. 9, 2020, using his accrued floating holiday leave, sick and permitted administrative leave, according to ABC 7. Smyly is expected to receive $69,000 in that period. He is barred from being reinstated at the department.

Atkinson’s lawyer, Siddhartha Rathod, was less-than-pleased with the agreement and said the city was using taxpayer dollars to reward Smyly for his misconduct.

“Boulder is paying this officer nearly $80,000 in taxpayer money, giving him a year’s paid vacation for what he did,” Rathod told the station. “If they don’t have the ability to terminate racist officers, that’s Boulder’s problem — not taxpayers’ problem.”

Atkinson is glad the officer is being held accountable but said “it seems like it’s just bare minimum things.”

Watch more in the video below. 

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