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Examining Controversial Officer Involved Shootings

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 May 2016

Robert J. Durán*
Department of Sociology, University of Tennessee
*Corresponding author: Robert J. Durán, PhD, Department of Sociology, University of Tennessee, 901 McClung Tower, 1115 Volunteer Blvd., Knoxville, TN, 37996-0490. E-mail:


This article provides a thematic overview of a subset of controversial officer involved shootings that have occurred in Denver, Colorado during a period of thirty years (1983-2012). Determining whether a shooting was legally justified involved multiple participants, including local, national, and international representatives. The primary stakeholders were City and County District Attorneys regarding whether to file criminal charges against the officer, and Managers of Safety for whether officers acted within police departmental policy. Although most cases were processed without conflict, a small number were challenged by members of the community based on thematic reasons of shooting individuals who had not committed a crime, violating continuum of force standards, and entrusting law enforcement officers with the power to use deadly force both off-duty and while working secondary jobs. Despite outcome legitimacy vested in a small number of public officials, community members often reported a lack of justice and accountability. They struggled to get public officials to take notice and implement systematic change. Reviewing controversial shootings highlights the multiple issues involved in protecting law enforcement officers from encountering criminal charges, and in essence the procurement of colonial control. Critical Race Theory (interest convergence and storytelling), Social Dominance Theory, along with the historical framework of W. E. B. Du Bois, were utilized to explore a number of officer-involved shootings that continue to produce disparate outcomes by race, class, and gender.

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