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Aurora investigators mostly clear cops involved in shooting Jor’Dell Richardson

AURORA | Three Aurora police officers involved in the June pursuit and shooting of Jor’Dell Richardson, 14, have been mostly cleared of wrongdoing by internal affairs investigators, whose decision was made public Tuesday.

Aurora Police Department investigators accepted the account of officer Roch Gruszeczka, who said Richardson reached for a pellet gun resembling a pistol after being tackled by police. Gruszeczka fired the single shot that killed Richardson.

Gruszeczka was investigated for violations of the department’s policies concerning the use of deadly force and conformance to law, and was ultimately found not to have violated those policies.

“You yelled ‘gun’ and ordered the suspect to drop the gun and warned the suspect that you would shoot him if he did not, which he did not,” investigators’ summary of findings with respect to Gruszeczka states.

Officer James Snapp, who tackled Richardson as the teen was running away after allegedly taking part in an armed robbery, was also found not to have violated policies related to the use of physical force and conformance to law.

However, investigators found that he did violate the department’s policy on conduct unbecoming when he yelled “get on the ground, you f–king idiot” at Richardson.

Sgt. Stephenson Cary, who initially spotted Richardson and his acquaintances outside of the convenience store that they allegedly robbed of vape products, was found not to have violated the department’s policies concerning the use of vehicles, but he did allegedly violate the body-worn camera policy because he did not turn his camera on when he spotted the group.

The findings by investigators were released about a month after 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner announced he would not be charging Gruszeczka or Snapp for their roles in Richardson’s death.

Jaleesa Smith, one of Jor’Dell Richardson’s aunts, describes the impact of Richardson’s fatal shooting by police at a forum held Sept. 27, 2023, at Arapahoe County’s CentrePoint Plaza building in Aurora. PHOTO BY MAX LEVY, Sentinel Colorado

Critics have pushed back on the narrative presented by police, saying that officers used unnecessary force in tackling Richardson and then wrongly continued to escalate the confrontation as the boy was subdued. Activists, friends and family members of Richardson said the shooting has intensified police mistrust among the local Black community.

“I’m scared every day for my sons. Every day. And I sit here and get them prepared for how you guys act,” said Paige Owens, the mother of one of Richardson’s friends. Her comments came during a recent town-hall style meeting about racial equity. “That baby was on the ground pleading for himself.”

Interim police chief Art Acevedo said in a statement released along with the department’s findings Tuesday that APD had “a legal and moral obligation to base our findings on the evidence, the facts, and the law.”

“That is what we did in this matter,” he said.

“While we cannot change what has occurred, we will continue to work and expand our efforts in the upcoming weeks and months with a myriad of community and government stakeholders to do all that is humanly possible to create an environment that will enhance the safety and opportunities for youth throughout Aurora and our region” Acevedo said in a statement. “We will also continue our efforts to identify all the individuals involved in the robbery leading up to this incident.”

The 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office’s decision not to charge Gruszeczka or Snapp and the two officers’ continued employment by APD have fueled protests against the two agencies, with activists comparing Richardson’s death to the officer-involved deaths of other Black youths, including Elijah McClain.

Siddhartha Rathod, an attorney representing the Richardson family, previously said the family plans to bring a civil lawsuit against the police department and Gruszeczka. On Tuesday, when reached for comment, he mentioned the settlements paid by the city to other clients of his firm.

“The Aurora Police Department exonerated its officers in the murders of Naeschylus Carter-Vinzant, Garry Black, and Elijah McClain. Three cases our firm handled,” he said in a statement. “Between these three cases alone, Aurora has paid nearly $20 million dollars to settle these murders.”

Aurora police said in their announcement that the department considered the findings of the 18th Judicial District’s Critical Incident Response Team as well as the department’s own investigation into the related armed robbery when weighing the actions of Cary, Gruszeczka and Snapp, all three of whom have returned to their normal duties.

State Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, said that situation was “sad on so many different levels. I understand grief, and I understand pain, and I understand loss, and it’s not easy to navigate it especially when it involves a police shooting.”

Fields has in the past been a vocal advocate for police reform and has questioned how the agency treats Black people.

“It’s important that we continue to seek justice for him, whatever that looks like,” Fields said.

She also said that law enforcement has to do better when it comes to encountering Black and brown people. “You have to look for ways to de-escalate it and look for ways to keep everybody safe. We have to stop these encounters where there ends up being a dead body.”

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