Remembering Paul Castaway: Killed by Denver Police

On July 12, 2015, Denver Police officer Michael Traudt fatally shot 35-year-old father of one and Rosebud Sioux tribal member, Paul Castaway, after responding to a mental health crisis help call placed by Castaway’s mother. Despite struggling with the trauma since the tragic killing, Castaway’s family has been instrumental in forming support networks with families who’ve lost their loved ones to police terror.

Led by Paul’s brother Gabriel Black Elk along with his wife Tonia, Paul’s mother Lynn Eagle Feather and his son, Emanuel, the family has worked to raise awareness of his and other police killings of Indigenous peoples across the country and have struggled for years for accountability in Paul’s case.

Although he was killed nearly 1,000 miles from Minneapolis, the image of Castaway and his son has been memorialized at George Floyd Square (GFS). A large mural was painted by artist Wes Winship on the former Super America gas station, reclaimed as The People’s Way at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.

Emanuel, who’s now 13 and has grown up most of his life without his father, visited GFS last year and saw the mural for the first time — Unicorn Riot was at the scene to record these intimate family moments. UR also sat down with Paul’s mother and son on a couple of occasions, both in Denver and in Minneapolis to hear their story and tribulations, see the video below.

Castaway struggled with schizophrenia and the day he was killed, he was in need of de-escalatory help as opposed to the aggressive, armed police forces he was met with, cornering Castaway in a trailer park complex. Seeing Castaway holding a knife to his own skin and walk towards him, Officer Michael Traudt fatally shot Paul as a crowd of neighbors and children watched. Traudt was cleared of wrongdoing by authorities and remains an officer in the Denver Police Department.

In 2018, Michael Roberts at the Denver Westword reported that Traudt, who had served in the military, has a tattoo of the Three Percenter logo on the back of his left hand. The Three Percenters are a far-right militia movement of primarily white males. Some of its members were indicted for participating in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack.

“It’s just horrible what they do to our people” said Lynn, who continued, “they’re pretty crooked here. The cop that murdered my son, he has a Three Percenter tattoo on his left hand.”

Castaway’s mother Lynn took part in a special 2016 publication of The Police Killings No One Is Talking About with the magazine In These Times. The special featured stories of Indigenous people killed by police across the U.S.

“Sometimes we forget names but you’re always with us, in everything we do, especially our Native families, our Indigenous families. They’re the ones that don’t get heard. They don’t get seen. A lot of people think it’s just a Black problem but cops kill every color of the rainbow, they don’t give a shit” said Tonia Black Elk when speaking at a commemoration event for Paul Castaway called Party in the Park for Paul.

According to Matthew Harvey, who conducted a study called Fatal Encounters Between Native Americans and the Police, Indigenous women in the Midwest region of the U.S., are 38 times more likely to be killed by police than white women and Indigenous males are 14 times more likely than white men.

“No one talks about our people being killed. It seems like they don’t care … I pray for my children, my grandchildren, the future generations. What’s it going to be like for them? … We need to keep speaking up. We need to do everything we can to get our loved ones names out there, to keep their names and their spirit alive.”

Lynn Eagle Feather, mother of Paul Castaway

Castaway’s family is currently pushing for Paul’s case to be reopened and they say the fight is not over. Paul’s brother Gabriel told Unicorn Riot, “the fight is still going on and it’s still needed. Not only for my brother Paul, but for the rest of the Native community who need justice for their loved one, murdered by police. Including Canada.”

Watch live streams from the 2020 Party in the Park for Paul [Castaway] on July 12, 2020, below:

Also in 2020, Paul’s brother Gabriel spoke with On Site Public Media about his brother, protesting police terror and the importance of Native Lives Matter, watch below.

In the wake of the Paul Castaway killing, the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police tweeted that the family and friends of Paul Castaway protesting his death were “a gaggle of clowns.” See a past Unicorn Riot video report from 2015 featuring the police response.

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