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Former Boulder police officer John Smyly takes temporary civilian position with sheriff’s office

Smyly resigned after incident in which he pointed gun at Black Naropa student Zayd Atkinson

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Officer John Smyly

The former Boulder police officer who resigned after pointing a gun at a Black Naropa student has taken a temporary civilian position with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office.

John Smyly was found in violation of department policies and resigned in May 2019 after an internal investigation into Smyly’s encounter with Zayd Atkinson in Boulder on March 1, 2019.

Smyly resigned prior to the conclusion of the disciplinary process, but police indicated the process would have likely resulted in suspension or termination. As part of a settlement with the city, Smyly remained under city employment until February as he exhausted accrued holiday, sick and administrative leave.

According to the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, Smyly was hired in January on a two-year term position as a civilian training and development coordinator in the sheriff’s computer support unit.

Boulder County Sheriff’s Division Chief Mike Wagner said the job is a civilian position helping with the office’s records and jail management computer systems replacement project. The job was publicly posted in 2019, Wagner said.

“The term position John fills is in an unsworn, civilian position, and is not in a public-facing role,” Wagner wrote in an email to the Camera.

Wagner said the office did not have any comment about Smyly’s history with Boulder police because the job “isn’t as an officer/deputy or in any way related to police officer/law enforcement duties.”

According to a summary of the investigation released by Boulder police, Smyly was conducting extra patrols on March 1, 2019, in the area of Folsom Street and Arapahoe Avenue when he saw Atkinson seated on a bench in a patio area that had a sign that said “private property.”

Smyly approached Atkinson on foot, and saw that he was using a long metal claw to pick up trash and put it in a bucket.

According to the report, Smyly asked Atkinson whether he lived in the building, which was Naropa student housing. Atkinson said he did and gave Smyly his Naropa student ID.

When Smyly asked for an address and date of birth, Atkinson walked away and began to pick up trash again. At this point, Smyly called in for a cover car and told Atkinson he was obstructing a police officer and was detaining him and investigating him for trespass.

According to the report, Atkinson “raised his voice” and Smyly “felt threatened by the trash grabber” and drew his stun gun and then drew his handgun.

Smyly told dispatchers Atkinson was “failing to comply and had a blunt metal object,” which resulted in eight officers and a sergeant responding to the scene. Officers were able to talk to Atkinson and a Naropa employee who responded to the scene and confirmed Atkinson was a student and lived in the building.

Boulder police said it could not support a claim of racial profiling in the encounter, but Smyly was found to have violated two department policies.

Atkinson later reached a settlement with the city.

Atkinson’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment. The Boulder Chapter of the NAACP, which emailed the Camera about the hire, decried Smyly’s hiring in a statement.

“Sheriff Pelle might be surprised if he were to poll his Black employees — the limited number he has — to hear their position on Smyly being hired after Smyly’s racist incident as an officer,” Darren O’Connor wrote in an email on behalf of the local NAACP chapter. “He shared that he slept on the decision, but he clearly didn’t think about how it would land with the community or those few diverse members of his staff. He should have slept longer.”

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