DENVER (AP) — A Denver police officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to wounding six bystanders in a crowd while firing at an armed man as bars let out, a shooting that still haunts the victims.
Brandon Ramos, 30, did not speak in court except to acknowledge that he understood his rights in pleading guilty to third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, in the 2022 shooting. The conviction makes him ineligible to serve as a police officer, prosecutors said. But the Denver Police Department said Ramos remains on unpaid administrative leave as it conducts a review of the shooting.
Ramos was sentenced to 18 months of probation. But he can ask to have that sentence shortened under the terms of a plea deal reached with prosecutors.
Ramos was working in a gun violence prevention team in Denver's Lower Downtown neighborhood, near an MLB stadium, bars and restaurants, when he and two other officers, who were not charged, shot at Jordan Waddy after he pulled a gun from his pocket.
The other officers were standing in front of Waddy when he pulled out the gun, and there was only a brick wall and a bar behind him. The grand jury found the other officers feared for their lives and were legally justified in shooting at Waddy. But it found that Ramos, who shot Waddy from the side, was not in danger because Waddy did not turn and face him, and Ramos disregarded the risk of shooting Waddy posed to the crowd of people behind Waddy.
Angelica Rey, a teacher who was celebrating a work promotion, was shot in the leg and could not stand as she watched her blood flow into the street. Because of her injuries she lost her job but later was hired back to work fewer hours, she said in a statement read in court by Zach McCabe of the district attorney’s office.
Bailey Alexander suffered her own trauma from being shot, seeing her boyfriend covered in her blood. But Alexander, who avoids going out downtown, also told Bland about the agony of her mother getting a call in the middle of the night that her daughter had been shot and rushing to get to the hospital in Denver from a town three hours away.
Yekalo Weldehiwet, whose fiance was right in front of him when he was shot, said their separate traumas from the shooting made it hard for them to connect.
“The world doesn't feel as familiar or safe as it used to be,” he told Judge Nikea Bland.
After the hearing, Willis Small IV, who was struck in the foot by a bullet that he said hit two other people first, said he was not completely satisfied with Ramos' sentence but glad that he was being held accountable for what happened.
Bland acknowledged both the ways the shooting had changed the lives of the victims forever and also the impact that not being able to work as a police officer again will have on Ramos, wishing him well in his “new path.” She also noted that the shooting had polarized the city but did not elaborate.
After Ramos was indicted, the city's then-mayor, Michael Hancock, questioned the grand jury's decision to charge him. The police union said it would do everything it could to defend Ramos and said the whole situation could have been avoided if Waddy had stopped and shown empty hands to the officers.
In a statement, District Attorney Beth McCann also put blame on Waddy, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit possession of a weapon by a previous offender. He has not yet been sentenced.
“Of course, none of this would have happened had Jordan Waddy not been carrying an illegal weapon and, for that reason, I am pleased that Mr. Waddy has pleaded guilty to a felony charge and will be held accountable for his role in the events of that night,” she said.
Ramos' attorney, Lara Marks Baker, said Ramos came from a family committed to public service and that he had wanted to be a police officer since he was a child. He was motivated by wanting to keep people safe and had to make a split-second decision about what to do with Waddy, she said.
“He is committed to seeing everyone move forward and heal,” she said.