Facebook   Twitter   Instagram
Current Issue   Archive   Donate and Support    
Denver Police Officers Kill Trans Woman One Week Before Pride

Denver Police Officers Kill Trans Woman One Week Before Pride


False narratives and misgendering surround trans woman’s death

On June 16th, one week before Denver held its 50th annual Pridefest, two officers and one sergeant fired a total of 12 rounds into an unhoused trans woman at the intersection of Broadway and Lawrence. 

At 11:30 AM a concerned witness called 911 and reported that a woman was in mental distress in the roadway at the intersection of Broadway and Lawrence. The woman was reportedly screaming at cars, telling drivers to “kill her” in Spanish according to police reports. 

Denver police officers attempted to get the woman — who we will refer to only by her released last name, Tapia, out of respect for her trans identity — to comply by giving orders in both English and Spanish. The woman then took out a knife with a blade measuring around 7 inches and proceeded to approach officers. A total of three Tasers were deployed and were unsuccessful at stopping the suspect from advancing. 

Two officers and a police sergeant fired a total of 12 rounds “in two seconds”. According to Police Chief Thomas, Tapia spoke to the officers in Spanish as she approached. 

“I think translated to mean ‘kill me,’” Police Chief Thomas said.

An ambulance was called to the scene. and paramedics pronounced Tapia dead. So far, DPD has been unable to contact family or friends of Tapia as it appears she was unhoused at the time of her death. Thus far, Tapia has been widely deadnamed and misgendered by all of the reports of her shooting possibly making the search for next of kin even more challenging. 

In response to the shooting, the Center on Colfax, Denver’s LGBTQ+ resource center which hosts the city’s annual Pridefest released the following statement

“We have learned of the tragic death of a Latinx trans woman who died last Sunday in an officer-involved shooting. While there is still more to learn about the incident, we mourn her death and the deaths of all trans women who have died from violence.

“This reminds us that many members of the transgender community are chronically unhoused, have greater rates of depression and mental health distress, and die from violence at higher rates than others.

“While we celebrate the advances of our community during Denver Pride this weekend, we cannot forget our transgender and unhoused siblings. We all must stand up against the violence and discrimination that so many individuals in our transgender community experience. We join our community in mourning this tragic incident.”

Public reactions to the shooting have been mixed, as one might expect when the victim is a Latinx trans woman. A right-wing anti-homeless social media account called Do Better Denver, posted about the incident, claiming that Tapia was in the country illegally and had a lengthy criminal record, including several convictions of sexual assault against a minor. Interestingly though, the name provided on screenshots of the posted arrest record as well as the some 20 aliases, do not match the name of the victim released by the Denver Police Department, leaving viewers to speculate how this particular wrap sheet was tied to Tapia at all. 

The housing advocacy group, Housekeys Action Network Denver wrote in length about the harmful and unsubstantiated claims being made on social media. 

“The fact of the matter is that the police have no role in taking someone’s life that they deem invaluable, nor were they acting that day with any knowledge of the victim’s past,” HAND wrote of the social media claims. 

“We have seen police officers take down white male mass shooters who are armed and in full gear, who had just finished murdering scores of civilians, still be brought in to serve sentences by being shot in the leg. This shows that the police are not meant to be judge, jury, and executioner – but become so when they encounter Black and Hispanic queer bodies versus white bodies. We must be honest in how there is a clear difference in approach when someone is a person of color, queer, and poor.”

While Tapia did pose a threat to officers it still could be argued that they used excessive force. In Tennessee v. Garner (1985), the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the use of deadly force against a non-violent, unarmed felon who is fleeing. The Court noted, however, that if the suspect is threatening the officer or there is probable cause to believe the suspect committed a violent crime, deadly force may be justifiable to effect an arrest or prevent the suspect from fleeing.

However, Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, Colorado passed SB20-217, also known as the “Police Integrity Transparency and Accountability Act,” in September 2020.

Under Colorado law:

    • Chokeholds and carotid holds are banned.
    • Colorado police officers cannot use deadly force against a defendant suspected of a nonviolent or minor crime. 
    • Officers must use nonviolent strategies, when possible, before using physical force on a suspect.
    • When using physical force, it must occur in a way that minimizes any injury to the suspect.

It could be argued that discharging 12 rounds at point-blank range did not in fact comply with the officers’ duty to minimize injury to suspects when using force. After Officer Involved Shootings such as this one, a multi-agency investigation is conducted immediately by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Internal Affairs, the Colorado DA office, and other police departments such as Aurora PD. Whether the actions of the officers involved are deemed appropriate remains to be seen. 

It is no secret that trans women of color especially those experiencing homelessness, like Tapia, are disproportionately at risk of being victims of police violence. This is just a drop in the bucket of the violence Denver’s unhoused population has faced in the past year. Police records indicate that anti-homeless efforts have increased by 46 percent from 2022.

Advocates and queer community members held a candle-lit vigil for Tapia on June 24th at the intersection where she died.

Leave a Reply