Three hours after Adams County deputies shot and killed Harmony Wolfgram, the sheriff’s office posted a six-sentence statement about the incident on its Facebook page.
The statement posted at 3:19 a.m. Jan. 26 said deputies had chased a stolen car before losing track of it. They found the car later and contacted two women who were nearby, according to the statement.
“During the contact, deputies were alerted that the suspect had a gun,” the statement reads. “The suspect was fatally shot.”
But Wolfgram wasn’t armed, said Stephen Rivale, Wolfgram’s brother. A detective investigating the shooting told Wolfgram’s family the next day that she actually didn’t have a gun, he said.
Rivale felt the damage was already done, however. News outlets across the Denver area, including The Denver Post, repeated the sheriff’s office’s statement, which Rivale felt unfairly implied his sister was armed. The sheriff’s office did not clarify in the immediate aftermath whether Wolfgram had a gun and declined to do so when asked last week.
“Either she had a gun or she didn’t,” Rivale said. “The scene is over, why can’t they say that?”
In Colorado, it often takes months before more information is made public about shootings by police beyond law enforcement’s initial statements, which vary in substance and length. Wolfgram’s case highlights how law enforcement agencies selectively release information in the immediate aftermath of a police shooting and then refuse to answer further questions, said Siddhartha Rathod, an attorney at the Rathod Mohamedbhai law firm, which is representing Wolfgram’s family.
“The Adams County Sheriff’s Office implies to the public that Ms. Wolfgram had a gun and that’s why they shot her, but privately they confirmed that Ms. Wolfgram did not have a firearm,” Rathod said. “These types of initial public statements are designed to cast blame on the victims of officer-involved shootings so that people do not delve deeper on what happened.”
When asked by The Post on Wednesday, Adams County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Adam Sherman would not say whether Wolfgram had a gun. He said he could not provide more information about the shooting beyond what was shared in the initial news release and referred further questions to the 17th District Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether the deputies involved should be charged with a crime in the shooting.
Seventeenth District Attorney Brian Mason said Monday that he couldn’t discuss many details of the case because it was still under investigation, but confirmed that there was no gun recovered at the scene.
Sherman said the Adams County Sheriff’s Office has no official policy on what information it releases after a deputy shoots someone. The department releases what it determines is pertinent for public safety, he said.
“That basically comes from the administration and what the public needs to know,” he said.
Wolfgram’s family hasn’t been able to glean much more information from the police investigating the shooting, Rivale said. The family learned she was shot a single time, but there is little more information about the events that led to the shooting, he said.
“We don’t know answers at all, we don’t know anything and they’re not giving us anything,” Rivale said. “It’s just really confusing and hard for us. How are we supposed to really grieve when we don’t know what really happened?”
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