The family of a Colorado man who was seen on security video being struck by a squad car before he was fatally shot by police is demanding answers about the circumstances surrounding his death.
Stephen Poolson Jr., 41, died Feb. 2 after an unnamed Littleton police officer rammed a squad car into him, chased him on foot and shot him after a report of a “suspicious vehicle,” according to security video obtained by NBC News and information released by the Littleton Police Department and the Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office. Police alleged he was riding a stolen motorcycle.
The 31-second security video starts by showing both Poolson on a motorcycle and the squad car stalled for a few seconds, with Poolson on the sidewalk and the squad car two lanes away in the road next to him. Poolson then starts to drive the motorcycle forward on the sidewalk, and the squad car makes a sharp left turn, crashing into him and knocking him off the motorcycle about three seconds later.
Poolson then gets up and runs behind a building. The officer chases him a few seconds later, and then both are obscured from view.
Video complicates police narrative
The video, a shorter version of one that was published by NBC affiliate KUSA of Denver, complicates the initial narrative released by police, in which they said that Poolson "was driving a motorcycle and crashed" shortly after 1 a.m. and then ran and pulled a gun, which prompted the unnamed officer to fire at him. Police said he had been transported to the hospital in unknown condition.
The report did not mention that the police officer crashed into Poolson near the intersection of South Bannock Street and West Powers Ave. in Littleton, a city about 11 miles south of Denver.
"They say one thing, and it’s something completely different," Poolson's sister Shannon Wicker, 37, said Friday. "Until we see all the facts, we don't know what to think."
Police announced that "the suspect is deceased" just after 5 a.m. on Feb. 2 and identified him just after 11:45 a.m. the next day, adding that the investigation was ongoing.
Poolson died of injuries from gunshot wounds to the neck, abdomen and upper and lower extremities, according to a spokesperson from the coroner’s office, who added that there were no indications of blunt-force injuries consistent with a car crash. The death is classified as a homicide, the spokesperson said, adding that a toxicology report is pending.
Wicker and her sister, Stephanie Poolson, said they want more information from police about their brother's death. They are calling for body camera or extended surveillance footage that shows the officer's and Stephen Poolson Jr.'s movements prior to the crash; an explanation for why he was struck with a car; details about why the officer believed that Poolson had a gun; and an account of how the shooting unfolded.
"I don't know whether we have enough information to know whether police handled it accurately or not," said Stephanie Poolson, 43. "I think him getting hit [by a car] is not right."
Wicker said she would like to know what the officer was thinking.
"I would like to know why he hit him, I would like to know why it was necessary to take his life," Wicker said.
Wicker said her brother had schizophrenia, a mental disorder that impacts how people interpret reality, according to the Mayo Clinic, which she said may have impacted his response to the officer.
Police defend initial report
A spokesperson for the police department said that the initial information police released was “very preliminary” and based on what the public information team, who wrote the initial information, were told about the incident, along with what they gathered from the scene.
The team that wrote the initial report had not seen the security footage before they released the information, and the officer involved in the incident had not yet been interviewed by external law enforcement, as is custom after an officer fires a weapon, the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that the department plans to release the body camera footage and "any additional video/audio/or pertinent information that will convey as much information as possible to the public" when the investigation is complete. It's unclear when that will be.
The officer involved has been placed on paid administrative leave, per department protocol, according to the spokesperson, and investigators from several law enforcement agencies are reviewing the incident. The department will also conduct an internal review of the incident, the spokesperson said.
Family remembers, begs for answers
Stephen Poolson Jr.'s obituary describes him as "the life of the party" with a "unique sense of humor," and notes that he loved motorcycles, boats and the New Orleans Saints.
Wicker said her brother was trying to leave Colorado to "be around different people." She found a notebook in which he wrote about the possibility of going to college.
"I know they need time to investigate," she said, "but I need to see the footage myself to believe what happened to my brother."