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Aurora police officer who shot 14-year-old Jor’Dell Richardson cleared of policy violations, two others cited

The Aurora police officer who shot and killed 14-year-old Jor’Dell Richardson on June 1 did not violate any departmental policies, according to the results of an internal investigation released Tuesday.

The investigation found that two officers violated policies related to conduct and body-worn camera activation when responding to reports of suspicious activity at a strip mall in the 800 block of North Dayton Street.

The department’s review of the shooting is separate from the investigation conducted by the 18th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team, which last month cleared the officers of wrongdoing.

Sgt. Stephenson Cary was on a routine patrol when he saw a group of juveniles wearing hoodies with the hoods pulled up, surgical masks and gloves walking near a strip mall in the area of East Eighth Avenue and Dayton Street at approximately 4:20 p.m. Sept. 1, according to the department’s review.

Cary called for backup from other Gang Unit officers, including Officers Roch Gruszeczka and James Snapp.

The group of juveniles ran out of a convenience store, dropping merchandise, and Snapp and Gruszezcka chased them. Snapp tackled Richardson, who was running away, and was wrestling him to the ground when Gruszeczka saw what he believed was a pistol near Richardson’s waistband and that Richardson was placing his hand on it.

Gruszeczka ordered Richardson to drop the gun and that he would shoot him if he did not, and then shot Richardson once in his stomach, according to the review.

Police later determined Richardson had a pellet gun in his waistband.

The department’s investigation exonerated Gruszeczka on policies related to the use of deadly force, requiring identification and warning before using deadly force, and conformance to law.

Snapp was cleared on policies related to the use of physical force and conformance to law. He violated the department’s policy on “conduct unbecoming.”

“Officer Snapp received a written reprimand for inappropriate use of profane language during the incident,” department officials wrote.

Cary was cleared of policy violations related to routine use of police vehicle operations and emergency response and police vehicle pursuits. He violated the department’s policy on body-worn camera activation. Cary received verbal counseling from his commanding officer for not activating his body-worn camera sooner, according to the department.

Richardson’s death sparked community protests and calls for the resignation of Aurora police Chief Art Acevedo.

In a statement, Acevedo said the department left no stone unturned in the investigation.

“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. “We will also continue our efforts to identify all the individuals involved in the robbery leading up to this incident.”

An attorney representing Richardson’s family, Siddhartha Rathod, said while he did not know the announcement was coming, it was not surprising.

“Aurora has a history of exonerating officers who engage in misconduct and murder. It does not change the Richardsons’ resolve,” Rathod said in a statement.

The department also exonerated officers involved in the cases of Naeschylus Carter-Vinzant, Garry Black and Elijah McClain, which also were handled by the Rathod Mohamedbhai law firm and have resulted in nearly $20 million in settlements, Rathod said.

When reached by phone, Rathod said earlier statements from Acevedo also bring into question the department’s investigation.

“If you’re an (internal affairs) officer, are you going to make a finding different from what the chief of police said to the nation and the community? The chief of police already came out and made these statements, so how can that be an independent process?” Rathod said.

In a statement, Acevedo said he stands by his previous statements, the investigative process and the findings of the internal investigation, and he does not intend to engage in a public debate with Rathod or anyone else.

“Mr. Rathod is well versed on the legal process and if he disputes our findings, or that of the independent criminal investigation completed by the 18th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team, he is well versed on the judicial process and is welcome to seek a resolution in a court of law,” Acevedo said.

Rathod said Richardson’s family is pursuing a lawsuit against the Aurora Police Department but has not yet filed it because the agency is charging more than $10,000 to obtain public records — specifically for body-worn camera footage of the shooting.

Aurora Police Department spokesperson Joe Moylan said the cost is approximately $10,000 because the request is for “all of the body camera footage and digital media collected from every officer who responded to the scene,” which amounts to hundreds of hours of video, some of which requires redaction.

Rathod was informed it would be costly to fulfill the request and did not respond to attempts to contact him to see how he wanted to proceed, Moylan said.

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