Denver, CO -- Two years ago, Denver police officer Michael Traudt shot and killed Paul Castaway, a suicidal man holding a knife to his own throat. The entirely unnecessary killing was captured on video and in spite of this video, Traudt was found justified in the killing.
Last year, Castaways mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the case, however, authorities moved to dismiss it. In a small victory this week, a US District Court judge has denied the motion to dismiss the case and it will remain alive.
"If you look at the video, there's no way a jury doesn't find that this police officer killed Paul Castaway and violated his civil rights," the family's attorney, Matthew Buck said. "That's why I think they fought so hard to get the case away from a jury. Because axiomatically, it's murder."
As Westword.com reports, along with Traudt, the other defendants in the suit, aside from officer Traudt, were the City and County of Denver, Chief of Police Robert White and Jerry Lara, another officer who responded to the fateful call about Castaway. Wiley Y. Daniel, senior judge for the 10th Circuit, tossed the claims against Denver, White and Lara, as well as ones that targeted Traudt in his official capacity. However, Traudt is still on the hook as an individual in regard to actions for which he wasn't punished by either the Denver Police Department or the Denver District Attorney's Office under previous DA Mitch Morrissey.
"The DPD did an internal investigation, and they determined, as they always do, that this murder was justified," Buck told Westword. "Then Mitch Morrissey determined, as he always does, that this murder was warranted. He will end his term having been feckless and allowing the DPD in this case to ruthlessly murder a citizen as opposed to protecting and serving, as they are supposed to do."
As TFTP reports, in July 2015, Paul Castaway was in the midst of a severe mental breakdown when his mother called police for help. He had a knife and was threatening to harm himself.
According to Paul's mother, Lillian Castaway, her son suffered from schizophrenia and struggled with alcoholism. "I called the police for help, not to kill my son," she said.
When police arrived, however, 'help' was the only thing they didn't do.
In front of multiple witnesses, including children, a DPD officer opened fire on Castaway. He died on the spot, yet police still rolled his dead and bloody body over it and placed handcuffs on him.
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"They shot him while the knife was still to his own throat," said Lillian.
One of the children spoke to the Denver Post and explained what happened. The child explained that Castaway was running when he came to a dead end and then turned to face the police who were in pursuit.
"He held the knife to his neck," the 15-year-old said. "He came close to them, and that's when they shot him."
The boy said Castaway asked officers, "What's wrong with you guys?" before he was shot. When he saw police shoot the man, the child fainted.
According to the boy's mother, Guadalupe Barrera, other children witnessed the shooting as well.
“He was probably trying to figure out a place to run. And they didn’t let him go. They trapped him like a mouse, and they killed him,” cousin Rick Morado said.
Months after the shooting, authorities released the surveillance footage which corroborated the witness testimonies. In the graphic video below, we can see Castaway run from police and get cornered. As he turns back toward police, with the knife to his own throat, an officer puts three rounds in him.
As he lay bleeding on the ground, police, instead of pulling the knife out of his hand and rendering first aid, cuff him and sit on his dying body.
Many people will say that the officer was justified in shooting a man who walked toward them with a knife pointed at his throat. However, if police wish to be held to the higher standard that they so often demand, shooting a man who they simply could have backed away from is no way to get there.