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Posted under: Race & Identity News

Colorado Officer Resigns After Pulling Gun On Black Man Picking Up Trash

Newly released body camera footage from the incident proves the officer acted without reason of suspicion.

Update (May 17, 2019):  A Colorado officer who received backlash after pulling his gun on a Black man for picking up trash in front of his home has resigned from the police force with salary compensation.

HuffPost reports that Officer John Smyly violated two department policies when confronted Zayd Atkinson, including public trust and conduct.

Officials say the video of Smyly’s body camera footage proved that the officer acted without proper reason of suspicion, ABC News reports. However, investigators claim they could not prove it was racially-motivated.

Smyly has since resigned from his position in the police department but was allowed to collect $69,000 in salary as compensation.

Tom Carr, Boulder Attorney, stated that the department decided not to fire Smyly because of the attention it would have drawn, as well as a possible appeal that could have led to him retaining his position.  

According to the agreement, Smyly’s position will dissolve on May 9. However,  he will be considered an employee until February. Therefore, making him eligible to receive “commensurate pay and benefits” as well as a “single, lump sum” for any unpaid profits or unused vacation time for the next nine months.

Atkinson's attorney, Siddhartha Rathod, found the gesture insulting to his client.

“Boulder is essentially saying we’re going to pay this officer and let him resign for threatening Zayd’s life, for racially profiling Zayd,” said Rathod. “If you or I were to do this, we would be criminally charged. We would immediately lose our jobs.”

Smyly, who pulled out his Taser and reportedly also showed his gun while interacting with Zayd, was met with 8 back-up officers, one of which can be seen holding a rifle in the footage.

He instructed the 26-year-old to put down his trash grabber and told him he was committing “a jailable offense.”

“Your hand is on your weapon and you’re gonna shoot me,” Atkinson shouted on the video. “That’s what you’re gonna do, officer? You’re gonna shoot a resident on his property for picking up trash?”

The original video was recorded by his friend and roommate, who began recording some time after the student intentionally walked from the front of his home to the back so that the incident could be seen and heard.

Zayd has since reported difficulty sleeping and battles with depression following the event.

Original: A Boulder, Colorado, college student, captured on video being harassed by several police officers, spoke out about the trauma he endured a month ago.  

The victim at the center of the now-viral video is Naropa University student Zayd Atkinson. On March 1, the 26-year-old was detained by police for cleaning up his yard in a majority white neighborhood. He was holding a bucket and a trash grabber when officers confronted him.  

Now, the man shared his story with ABC's Good Morning America. Atkinson believed he was approached because of his race and how he dressed.

He could be seen in the Facebook video recorded by his friend, Vanardo Merchant, defending his right to pick up trash to a cadre of officers. One of the officers at the scene pulled out his weapon in a threatening fashion. 

"I thought that once the firearm was out that that meant that he was going to try to kill me," Atkinson told Good Morning America. "It was a frightening experience. I didn't know what else to do besides, you know, to fight with my voice and to practice my rights, which were thoroughly being breached."

Atkinson complied with officers' demands. However, more police arrived at the scene. 

He proved he lived on the property by showing an ID along with a keycard, and his friend also told officers Atkinson was a resident.

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"Zayd is picking up [garbage] outside of our home and eight police officers pull up on him with guns threading to shot him telling him to put down the 'weapon,'" Merchant wrote in the caption of the video.

During his sit-down with GMA, Atkinson recalled one officer following him around with his hand on a Taser. 

Police eventually left the second-year college student alone. Nearly a week after, protests broke out in Boulder demanding justice for Atkinson. The Boulder Police Department admitted the victim committed no crime.

"I believe that this man had approached me because I'm a Black male in an all-white town. … I thoroughly believe I was profiled," Atkinson said. "Not only that you know I'm a Black man, I have dreads. At the time I had a beard and I was wearing raggedy clothes."

Although the incident is over, Atkinson will take legal action. He has recruited attorney Siddhartha Rathod to represent him. The traumatic experience has reportedly left him unable to sleep. He also suffered from anxiety and depression due to the incident.

One of the officers involved is currently on administrative leave while an investigation is underway, the department said in a statement released last month.

The student hopes to meet with city officials to start a dialogue about police policies and officer training to prevent this sort of harassment from happening again.

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