Aurora lawmakers remove Kilyn Lewis police-shooting apology from agenda as protesters return

Max Levy/The Sentinel
Kiawa Lewis — brother of Kilyn Lewis, who was unarmed when he was shot and killed by an Aurora police officer in May 2024 — addresses interim police chief Heather Morris after demonstrators took over the Paul Tauer Council Chamber during the Aurora City Council’s meeting Monday, July 8, 2024.

By Max Levy/The Sentinel

After a raucous meeting last month where protesters heckled and shouted down Aurora City Council members, council conservatives on Monday tried and failed to stop the same group from speaking publicly about the fatal shooting of Kilyn Lewis by Aurora police.

The crowd of dozens — whom one council member denounced as “terrorists” — filed in silently before the start of the council’s biweekly meeting, hands raised in homage to the gesture that the unarmed 37-year-old made at the moment he was fatally shot by police Officer Michael Dieck.

The demonstrators sat through the first public comment period, when members of the public are given the opportunity to address the council regarding items not on the night’s agenda.

The matter of Lewis’ death was on the agenda in the form of a proposed formal apology to his family, sponsored by Councilmember Alison Coombs. While some protesters spoke up to tell the council they were saving their comments for the agenda item, for the most part, they sat in silence.

Once the public comment period closed, the council voted 8-2 to delete Coombs’ item from the agenda.

The procedural maneuver had the effect of blocking the public from addressing the council about Kilyn Lewis’ death, since the period of time set aside to hear about topics unrelated to the agenda had ended.

It didn’t work. Having stood by for close to an hour only to be denied a chance to talk, demonstrators began chanting Lewis’ name, led by former Denver Public Schools board member Auon’tai Anderson.

As they had done two weeks prior, the protesters marched down the stairs of the Paul Tauer Council Chamber, chanting with their hands in the air, while the mayor and other members of the council who had tried to prevent the group from speaking exited the room through a door behind the council dais.

“We peacefully approached your podium,” Anderson said, telling those present that the group would continue the meeting on its own terms and that, since the council tried to turn demonstrators away despite the group following the rules, “this meeting now becomes ours.”

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Demonstrators briefly shut down an Aurora City Council meeting Monday evening, June 24, 2024, as they speak out in protest against Aurora Police Officer Michael Dieck, who shot and killed unarmed Kilyn Lewis in May.

The disruption was the latest in an escalating series of protests that have taken place at the Aurora Municipal Complex since June 20, when the Aurora Police Department released a compilation of body-worn camera footage depicting the May 23 shooting of Lewis.

The footage shows a team of several police officers armed with rifles confronting the 37-year-old as they attempt to arrest him on a warrant for attempted first-degree murder. As the officers yell at Lewis to lay on the ground, he reaches into his pocket. He then lifts up his open hands, one of which holds a cellphone, and is shot once in the abdomen by Dieck.

Interim police chief Heather Morris acknowledges in the video released by APD that Lewis was unarmed.

Kilyn Lewis stares at the camera wearing a black shirt with hair slicked back in a low pony-tail.
The Sentinel
Kilyn Lewis, 37, in a photo from his Facebook page.

July 8 marked the third time that Lewis’ family and supporters have confronted the council about the shooting at a regular meeting. While on June 24 the meeting ultimately continued in the council chamber, on Monday, the mayor and other conservatives did not return and instead proceeded with the rest of the council’s agenda in a nearby room.

Coombs stayed behind, as did fellow progressive Councilmember Crystal Murillo, who also voted against removing the apology resolution from the agenda. During their parallel meeting, demonstrators once again denounced what they described as a pattern of racist violence by Aurora police and vented their grief over the death of Lewis, who was Black.

“He was a good, gentle spirit. They would call him Uncle Johnny, the kids in my family,” said Sherdina Lewis, grandmother of Kilyn Lewis, while addressing the police chief.

“I saw the video — it was horrific, and it’s so bad the way he died. What I want to say to the police department is take care of your own. Don’t let them get away with making the whole department be slapped down because of that one person.”

Screen grab from video released by the Aurora Police Department.
Body-worn camera video showing Kilyn Lewis holding a cellphone with both hands up when an Aurora police officer shot and killed him May 2024.

Morris, too, stayed in the room after the departure of the majority of city lawmakers. Accompanied by other officers, she accepted a challenge by Anderson to come down to the floor of the council chamber and hear from Kilyn Lewis’ family and others. Demonstrators chanted, “I ain’t got nothing,” which were among Kilyn Lewis’ last words, as Morris passed members of the group on her way to the front of the room.

“I have offered my condolences to the family, and I will do that again,” Morris said when called on to address Kilyn Lewis’ family. “No matter the circumstances, this is very tragic … Knowing that we have these investigations that are ongoing, I just can’t comment further than that.” 

Demonstrators tried to pressure other officers to offer condolences — only one obliged before Coombs said she believed the group was crossing a line by trying to compel officers’ speech.

Dozens of police officers and non-sworn security personnel were stationed in and around the council chambers throughout the night. Officers also flanked the hallway leading to the Aurora Room, where the council held its pre-meeting study session and mostly retreated once demonstrators brought the meeting in the chamber to a halt.

No direct confrontation took place between police and demonstrators, though many of the speakers who took the podium after the majority of council had left blasted the Aurora police department for not firing Dieck, despite the fact that his actions are still being scrutinized by investigators.

“He deserves backlash, because he took away something he can’t give back,” Kilyn Lewis’ aunt, Gena Simien, said of Dieck. “There’s not a price on young Black mens’ heads.”

‘Terrorists, anarchists, opportunists, provocateurs’

Meanwhile, in the Aurora Room, the council’s conservative majority made quick work of the night’s scheduled agenda.

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman warned earlier in the day that the council would transition its meeting to a remote format if demonstrators caused a disruption like they had done June 24.

When asked before the council’s study session whether the Sentinel would be able to observe the meeting in-person should it be relocated, Coffman referred the question to interim city attorney Jack Bajorek, who advised the mayor against doing so, saying the city would then have to allow the rest of the public to attend in-person.

Near the end of Monday’s meeting, the mayor reiterated his call for patience and faith in the two ongoing official investigations into the shooting, calling Kilyn Lewis’ death a “tragedy.”

Dieck’s decision to shoot is being investigated by the third-party 18th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team, which has the power to recommend criminal charges for officers, as well as the Aurora Police Department’s Internal Investigations Bureau.

“Any loss of life is always a tragedy, and there is a process when there is an officer-involved shooting that we go through,” Coffman said. “It’s only fair that those two processes be allowed to occur before we comment on this particular case, as tragic as it is to the family, and I extend my condolences to the family.”

By far the most outspoken about the demonstration taking place a few hundred feet away was Councilmember Stephanie Hancock, who moved to pull the apology resolution as well as another resolution from Coombs that would have affirmed the city’s commitment to sponsoring the 2024 Aurora Pride event supporting LGBTQ residents at the Aurora Reservoir, a commitment worth about $15,000.

Hancock was singled out for criticism June 24 by protesters. She began her closing remarks Monday with an excerpt from an 1852 speech by abolitionist writer and orator Frederick Douglass in which Douglass discusses the significance of the Fourth of July holiday for Black slaves.

In the portion of the speech read by Hancock, Douglass describes the U.S. Constitution as a “glorious liberty document” and rejects the suggestion that it supports the institution of slavery.

Hancock, who is Black, said she took issue with the fact that demonstrators did not stand during the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of that night’s meeting and argued that American society was founded on the values of liberty and equality rather than the manifestation of racism that was slavery.

“Four hundred years ago, my ancestors came here by force, but I am an American. I served in the military. I raise my hand to the flag. I believe in the Constitution. I believe in the principles of this country,” she said.

“For anyone who won’t stand for the Pledge, who won’t acknowledge that this country is great, I would be happy to help you pack your bags and leave, because, to me, this country is worth fighting for, and there are those who would seek to dismantle, disrupt, and destroy, and tear this country apart. Those people do not love this country.”

Mourners walk by the Kilyn Lewis' casket during his viewing.
Tony Gorman/CPR News
Mourners walk by the Kilyn Lewis' casket during his viewing.

Hancock added that she would not be discouraged from serving on the council by the actions of the protesters.

“I will not allow a bunch of bullies, terrorists, anarchists, opportunists, provocateurs and others who want to lift their voices so they can get social media clicks to make me any less dedicated to the principles of this city, of this country, than I am today,” she said.

After the meeting, Coombs accused Hancock of trying to “filibuster” demonstrators by reading the five-minute-long excerpt of Douglass’ speech while the livestream of the majority’s meeting was being played in the council chamber over the objections of those in the crowd who were trying to speak or listen to speakers.

Coombs also expressed frustration with the majority’s unwillingness to take a position publicly on the resolution concerning Kilyn Lewis, describing it as ducking out from a difficult but important conversation with residents.

“They’ve decided we’re not having Pride, and we’re not listening to our community, but without being on-record about it,” Coombs said. “Instead, they just pull the items, shut down the community, call them terrorists and treat them like terrorists.”

At one point during the meeting in the chamber, demonstrators held a symbolic vote on Coombs’ resolution, passing it.

Morris warned that an order from city leadership dictated that the group had to leave by 8:45 p.m. or face arrest. The crowd dispersed shortly before then, with no additional attendees expressing interest in speaking.

Members of the group said during their comments Monday that they plan to return at future meetings. The gathering at Monday’s council meeting was part of a “week of action” that supporters say will also include a rally outside of city hall at 7 p.m. Thursday.