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February 6, 2004

Mother sues police in killing of deaf son

From: Rocky Mountain News - Denver,CO,USA - Feb 6, 2004

Teenager wouldn't drop knife, was shot

By Brian D. Crecente, Rocky Mountain News

The mother of a deaf teenager killed by two police officers last year has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the officers failed to take appropriate steps to communicate with him before shooting him.

Sgt. Bob Silvas and Officer James Turney fired eight shots, hitting Gregory L. Smith, 18, six times as he came up the stairs of his home armed with a knife.

It was the eighth shooting - and fifth fatal one - that Silvas was involved in during his 25 years on the force.

Turney was involved in the fatal shooting of developmentally disabled teenager Paul Childs six months later. Childs also was armed with a knife.

Neither officer had training in dealing with people with mental health or physical disabilities, according to the suit.

Officers responded to Smith's home in the 3600 block of Garfield Street on Jan. 30 after Smith's mother, Regina Keith, and his sister, Joann Smith, called police, saying Smith had become angry, broken a door, hit the window of a car with a brick and left.

Smith returned to the house and was still angry, police said. Silvas and Turney were the first officers to arrive at the house, although other officers arrived a short time later.

Police said Smith was in the basement and started coming up the stairs toward the officers, who fired when he refused to put down the knife.

Keith called for a full investigation because, she said, her son was standing still with the knife in the air and was given no warning before being shot.

But in October, Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter announced no charges would be filed against the officers because of a lack of evidence.

Ritter said whether Smith heard the officers' commands to stop is immaterial because his conduct was aggressive and life-threatening and warranted the use of deadly force.

The federal lawsuit in the case was moved from Denver District Court to U.S. District Court on Wednesday.

The suit, which seeks an unspecified amount of money, also names police Chief Gerry Whitman and the city.

Turney remains on paid leave while detectives investigate a claim that he threatened his former mother-in-law over the phone.

Copyright 2004, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.