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Family of 14-year-old killed by Aurora police calls for answers, chief’s resignation

Hundreds marched in the rain Friday evening behind the casket of a 14-year-old boy and demanded answers about the fatal shooting of the teen by an Aurora police officer.

The family of Jor’Dell Richardson demanded the release of all videos showing the June 1 shooting as well as the resignation of interim Chief Art Acevedo. An Aurora police officer shot and killed the teen after Jor’Dell fled from police investigating suspicious activity. An officer shot Jor’Dell in the stomach after tackling him to the ground and seeing a weapon, which police later revealed was a pellet gun that replicated a handgun.

“Whatever went on that day, it should not have been a death sentence,” Jor’Dell’s mother, Laurie Littlejohn, said at a public memorial for the teen held Friday outside the Aurora Municipal Center.

Jor’Dell’s family and their attorney criticized Acevedo for not revealing the teen’s weapon was a pellet gun for more than a week. Acevedo on June 1 told reporters that Jor’Dell had a “semiautomatic firearm pistol” and then on June 9 said the weapon was actually a pellet gun that replicated a handgun. Acevedo told Sentinel Colorado the delay in correcting the information was a result of miscommunication and that he was told the gun was a pellet gun on June 8.

Jor’Dell’s family also criticized the department for failing to mention in the information it released the day of the shooting that Jor’Dell surrendered to police after he was tackled and that there is no evidence on body camera footage that Richardson touched the replica pellet gun before he was shot.

“Chief Acevedo, I know you tried to be transparent,” said Pastor Thomas Mayes, president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance and a member of the community advisory committee guiding the implementation of a court-ordered consent decree to reform the department. “You failed. You failed Jor’Dell, you failed this family, you failed the community.”

The teen’s family on Friday called for Acevedo to release all video of the shooting, including the footage from a surveillance camera in the alley where Jor’Dell was killed.

Acevedo released two body camera videos during a June 9 news conference after showing the family the footage three days earlier. State law mandates that police departments wait 72 hours between showing videos to families of people killed by police and releasing the footage publicly.

Acevedo called Richardson’s death a tragedy during the June 9 news conference. He said there are other body camera videos from the shooting but that he hadn’t seen any footage that more clearly showed Jor’Dell and the two officers who tackled him in the moments before the officer fired.

The 18th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team is investigating the officer’s decision to shoot Jor’Dell, and Acevedo declined to answer some questions at the news conference because of the ongoing investigation.

Jor’Dell’s family described the teen as a gregarious jokester who was passionate about everything he pursued. He’d recently started playing basketball and earned a spot on the All-Star Team for Aurora Public Schools. He graduated from Aurora West College Preparatory Academy weeks before he was killed and was to start high school in the fall. Instead, his mother is deciding what to do with his possessions.

“I have to live with an empty room,” Littlejohn said.

Aurora police Officer Roch Gruszeczka shot and killed Richardson after the teen fled from police who were investigating suspicious activity at a strip mall.

Gruszeczka and Officer James Snapp arrived after a sergeant radioed for backup and said: “Five dudes, black juveniles, all masked up came from the alley and started running toward the strip mall.” The sergeant said it looked like the group was scoping out businesses in the strip mall.

Attorney Siddhartha Rathod speaks during a memorial for 14-year-old Jor'Dell Richardson at the Aurora Municipal Center on Friday, June 16, 2023. The memorial took place two weeks after Aurora police Officer Roch Gruszeczka shot and killed Jor'Dell on June 1. In front of the Municipal Center, family members gave eulogies for the teenager. Following the eulogies, a processional march occurred around the city with Jor'Dell's casket. (Photo by Grace Smith/The Denver Post)
Attorney Siddhartha Rathod speaks during a memorial for 14-year-old Jor’Dell Richardson at the Aurora Municipal Center on Friday, June 16, 2023. (Photo by Grace Smith/The Denver Post)

As Gruszeczka arrived at the shopping area, he said: “They just shoplifted out of there. I’m going to light them up.” He and Snapp then chased Jor’Dell into an alley and tackled him to the ground, where the teen said, “Stop, please, you got me.”

During a struggle on the ground, Gruszeczka saw what he thought was a gun on Jor’Dell and shot him once in the stomach, police said.

After the shooting, investigators determined that at least one of the teenagers threatened a convenience store clerk with a gun and they took several vape canisters, according to police. Acevedo said Jor’Dell was the teenager who threatened the clerk.

The memorial Friday was held at the same place where the family of Elijah McClain gathered four years ago to demand answers about his death. McClain, 23, died in police custody after being violently detained without probable cause and injected with the sedative ketamine.

Siddhartha Rathod, the attorney who represents McClain’s mother and is now representing Jor’Dell’s family, said in both cases and in others that the Aurora Police Department has repeatedly misled the public with “half-truths.”

“We have the right to have a police department that we can trust,” he said.

The Denver Post was unable to reach Acevedo for comment Friday night.

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