Rocky Mountain News

HomeNewsLocal News

Slain teen 'loved' cops

Sister tried to tell authorities that her brother was disabled

Published July 8, 2003 at 8:20 p.m.

The sister of a 15-year-old boy killed by Denver police said Monday that a 911 operator cut her off before she could explain that her brother was developmentally disabled.

On the tape, she can be heard calmly telling the emergency call- taker on Saturday that her brother was threatening their mother with a knife and that he had hit the mother in the past.

"Has he done this before?'' the 911 operator asked Ashley Childs.

"No, he hit my mom before but never pulled out a knife'' Childs answered.

Moments later, Patrolman James Turney shot and fatally wounded Paul Childs III inside the hallway of his house when he refused to drop a knife.

It was Turney's second fatal shooting.

Police Chief Gerry Whitman said Monday that two officers with non-lethal Tasers and a third officer, who was trained in crisis intervention, also were at the house.

Whitman would not go into detail about what the officers did or why the Tasers were not used, citing the ongoing investigation.

"I'm not going to second-guess the officers who were thrust into the situation,'' the chief said during an evening press conference. "I want facts. I want to be able to present the facts to the district attorney. When the facts are available, I want to present the facts to the public.''

During the news conference, Whitman played the 911 call from the home, 5550 E. Thrill Place.

At one point the 911 operator can be heard cutting off Ashley Childs.

"He didn't want to hear what I had to say'' about Paul being mentally disabled, Childs said during an emotional news conference outside the family's home earlier in the day.

The chief cautioned that the tape is not clear. He said the operator's handling of the call would be part of the department's review.

"I guess I would ask that the people who answer the call pull as much out and get it to (the officers) quickly,'' Whitman said.

The killing of Paul Childs, an East High School student, has caused outrage in the neighborhood, and community activists are calling for an independent investigation.

Whitman met Tuesday and black church leaders.

All part of the Greater Metropolitan Denver Ministerial Alliance, the church leaders today will issue an official statement and suggest changes at the police department.

The Rev. Reginald Holmes, president of the alliance, said he hopes the group - which includes more than 65 local churches - can calm community tensions over the shooting, which he said could have been avoided.

"You've got people who are angry. And not only are they angry, they're frustrated with the police force,'' said Holmes.

During the press conference Monday outside the family's home, Joel Nobel, a shop teacher at East High, dropped by to give the family a wooden pen that Childs had made.

"He was the most gentle kid,'' said Nobel, who said he had no qualms about letting Childs handle sharp objects like chisels and saws. "I trusted him.''

Alvertis Simmons, an activist who organized the event, urged the media to put pressure on police to explain what happened.

"Not one time have (police involved in shootings) been found at fault,'' Simmons said. "You mean to tell me they're always right?''

Simmons said the officer would not have gotten away with shooting a white teenager with developmental disabilities. Childs was black.

His family says they called police to help, not hurt Paul Childs.

He was known to many officers in northeast Denver because of his tendency to wander from home. Police frequently brought him home, said his mother, Helen, and he thought of police as his friends.

"He loved and trusted them,'' she said, sobbing. ``The police he loved and trusted shot and killed him.''

She said her son did not have a record of violence. She said he had been taking medication for seizures and that his behavior with the knife was unusual.

A family friend who was in the home at the time of the shooting supported the family's claims that they did not feel threatened.

"If I was threatened, I would have taken my children out of that situation,'' Lakisha Newell, 21, said.

However, the 911 operator asked Ashley Childs if her brother was trying to stab her mom.

"Yeah . . . he's following her with the knife,'' she responded.

Ashley told the operator Paul was angry at his mother because she didn't want him to leave the house

In the tape the 911 dispatcher told officers that the Childses' address had been the scene of previous calls for domestic violence and family disturbances. Whitman would not talk about the nature of those calls and whether they involved Paul Childs.

Whitman pointed out the dangers faced by his officers who are confronted by people armed with knives. Since 1990, for instance, three officers were stabbed by assailants wielding knives, the chief said. Officers also killed 11 and wounded six other knife-wielding attackers.

One of those was 18-year-old Gregory Smith Jr. on Jan 30, 2002.

In that case, Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter ruled that Turney and another officer were justified in using deadly force.

Turney, on the force since 1998, was the first officer to respond to a domestic disturbance call from Regina Keith, Smith's mother.

With the help of Smith's sister, JoAnn, officers were able to coax Smith out of the basement.

Conflicting statements by officers and Smith's sister say Smith was either standing on the stairs or moving toward officers while wielding a knife with a three-inch blade.

Two officers opened fire. Turney's was the fatal shot.

Paul Childs' death was Turney's second fatal shooting.

Childs' family said Monday that Turney was one of several officers to respond to their 911 call Saturday.

Helen Childs said she overheard one officer suggest that they "taze'' Paul.

Taser guns stun suspects by firing a pair of electric prods, up to a distance of 21 feet.

She said one of the officers grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out the front door. Relatives said Turney had his foot inside the screen door and that Paul Childs stood in a hallway, holding a knife close to his chest.

"I told them, 'Please don't shoot him. He's a special-needs child,''' Helen Childs recalled.

"They had four guns to one knife,'' she said. ``That's wrong.''

Back to Top

Search »