Denver cop with tattoo resembling militia group logo killed tribal citizen in 2015

Officer Michael Traudt says he is not a member of the Three Percenters.


Westword, a Denver weekly, is reporting that Denver police officer Michael Traudt, who shot and killed a Rosebud Sioux tribal citizen in 2015, has a tattoo resembling an anti-government militia group logo, the Three Percenters, on the back of his hand.

As High Country News previously reported, local Three Percenter groups operate across the country but do not rely on centralized leadership. The national website for Three Percenters says becoming a member is “more of a way of life, rather than a club to join.” The group’s name comes from a story that only three percent of Americans from the 13 colonies rebelled against the British. Group members similarly see themselves against federal overreach. According to Westword, Traudt denied being a part of any Three Percent groups but confirmed in a statement to the paper that the same story “is central” to his tattoo.

A tattoo matching the anti-government militia group the Three Percenters is seen here on police officer Michael Truadt’s hand.

There are four different Three Percent groups currently active in Colorado, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a leading civil rights organization that monitors hate groups and anti-government extremism. Nationwide, SPLC identified 689 active anti-government groups in 2017.

Though they reject connotations with white supremacy, racism and violence, armed Three Percenters showed up at the Charlottesville, Virginia, rally in 2017 where a white supremacist killed a protester and neo-Nazis marched. They also appeared at the ‘anti-Sharia law’ rally on the capitol steps in Denver 2017, joined the Bundy standoff in Bunkerville, Nevada, in 2014 and the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy in Oregon.

In a written statement provided to Westword by the Denver Police Department, Traudt wrote, “I have never been associated with that group, nor do I plan to [be]. I am an American and fully support this country and its free government. I have spent my entire adult life in service to this country and my community.”

In 2015, Truadt shot and killed Rosebud Sioux tribal member Paul Castaway but was never prosecuted or disciplined.

The incident galvanized Denver's Indigenous community and highlighted grim, national statistics that Native Americans were the racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement. According to data collected by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, Native Americans comprised only 1% of the population but made up nearly 2% of police killings.

On the day Paul Castaway was killed, Denver police argued that Castaway, who had battled mental illness and addiction, got “dangerously close” to Truadt and his partner with a knife. Only minutes before, Castaway’s mother, Lynn Eagle Feather, had called police for help after an altercation. In 2015 she recounted the incident to Al Jazeera America “I told [the police] that my son was mentally ill. I tell them that every time I call … I just asked for help. Instead they killed my son.” Surveillance video shows Castaway approach the officers holding the knife to his own throat before being shot twice by Truadt.

Westword reports that Truadt remains “in good standing” with the Denver police.

Anna V. Smith is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

Tristan Ahtone is a member of the Kiowa Tribe and associate editor of the High Country News tribal affairs desk. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.  

High Country News Classifieds