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Northern Colorado Police Shootings Lead To Community Action

GREELEY, Colo. (AP) — Relatives of men who died in recent Weld County police shootings spoke at a public meeting of the anguish of hearing of the deaths not from authorities, but from friends, social media or newspapers, The Tribune reported Friday.

Following the August death of Jacinto Zavala, 21, of Greeley, residents formed Police Accountability in Weld County to try to build trust between community members and law enforcement.

Thursday's meeting was part of that initiative, The Tribune reported. It was attended by more than 100 residents, law enforcement chiefs and the Weld County district attorney.

Relatives of Zavala, Michael Rodriguez, Jimmy Trevino, Raymond Garcia and Raul Alaniz Jr. complained about law enforcement not being the first to inform them of the deaths, saying they believed that stemmed from lack of compassion.

Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner said notifying the family should be priority No. 1, and he pledged to address such shortcomings.

"If I have to make another county official upset by releasing information too early, then that's what I'm going to do," he said.

Sheriff Steve Reams said he was apprehensive about attending the forum given the emotionally charged topic.

"This meeting isn't necessarily about the tragic stories we heard tonight but about trust, and it's obvious you don't feel you can trust us all of the time," Reams said. "There are gaps to be filled, outreaches to be made, and I'll reach out to you, but I need you to reach back."

Concern about strains in the relationship between officers and their communities also were raised in Denver after police there shot and killed Jessica Hernandez, 17, on Jan. 26. Police say two officers opened fire after Hernandez drove at them in a stolen car, resulting in an injury to one officer. One of Hernandez's friends in the car at the time has said police opened fire before the vehicle moved.

Colorado state lawmakers have raised the possibility of having special prosecutors, rather than the local district attorneys, determine whether charges should be filed in such cases.

At Thursday's forum, Weld District Attorney Michael Rourke rejected the idea he might be biased because he is too close to police.

"Police officers don't work for me, they work with me," he said. "The vast majority of law enforcement officers in this community are very, very good at what they do, and I don't want an outside agency to come investigate a crime in a community that I represent. That is my obligation until the Legislature tells me otherwise."

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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