The Aurora police officer who shot and killed a 14-year-old boy earlier this year will not face criminal charges, according to a decision letter released Wednesday by 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner.
Kellner found that Aurora officers Roch Gruszeczka and James Snapp acted within the law when they chased down and shot Jor’Dell Richardson after the boy ran from police while carrying a pellet gun on June 1.
The two officers were investigating a report of suspicious activity from another officer, who asked for backup after spotting a group of teenagers wearing face masks and hoodies cinched over their faces near Eighth Street and Dayton Avenue. The teens were pacing in front of some businesses near a parked stolen minivan, according to Kellner’s 14-page letter.
Officers Gruszeczka and Snapp were responding when they saw a group of teenagers run from a liquor store “carrying armfuls of merchandise,” Kellner’s letter states. The officers believed that the group had stolen the items from the store.
Gruszeczka and Snapp chased Jor’Dell into an alley and tackled him to the ground, previously released body-camera videos show. After the officers tackled Jor’Dell, the teen told police, “Stop, please, you got me” just seconds before Gruszeczka yelled that there was a gun.
The district attorney’s decision letter found that Gruszeczka landed on top of Jor’Dell and Gruszeczka felt the gun underneath his own bulletproof vest, pointed at his stomach.
“Officer Gruszeczka saw and felt the individual reaching his hand in between their bodies to try to get his hand around the grip of the pistol,” Keller wrote. “Although Officer Gruszeczka reported he had a hand on the slide of the gun, he felt the suspect’s hand at the grip of the gun and could not block the trigger. During this struggle, Officer Gruszeczka unholstered his own firearm and loudly ordered the individual to drop the gun. In response, Officer Gruszeczka felt the individual’s fingers and knuckles moving along Officer Gruszeczka’s belly, re-gripping the pistol grip of the gun.”
“Gun, gun, let go of the (expletive) gun!” Gruszeczka yelled, the video shows. “I’m going to shoot your ass! Dude, I’m going to shoot you!”
Five seconds later, Gruszeczka shot Jor’Dell once in the stomach as the teenager lay face-up on the ground with the two officers restraining at least one of his hands, the video shows.
Jor’Dell had just finished eighth grade at Aurora West Preparatory Academy and was planning to attend Aurora Central High School in the fall. The boy was funny and silly and he enjoyed sports and dancing, his family has said.
His mother did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.
Kellner said the 14-year-old robbed the liquor store of vape products immediately before he ran from police, and that he showed the clerk the pellet gun tucked into his pants during that robbery.
“When the clerk hesitated, the individual displayed what appeared to be a handgun in his waist area and said words to the effect of, ‘I’m not playing,’” the letter states.
The pellet gun was immediately identified as a fake gun after the shooting, the letter states, and that information was shared with Aurora police investigators during a briefing on June 1.
Aurora police Chief Art Acevedo initially publicly claimed that Jor’Dell had a “semiautomatic firearm pistol” — but eight days later said the weapon was actually a pellet gun. 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.
Acevedo did not return a request for comment Wednesday but issued a statement calling the district attorney’s findings “fair and just.”
The people who participated in the robbery told officers they believed the gun was real, according to the letter. Someone in the group handed the gun to Jor’Dell immediately before the robbery and never told the boy that it was a fake gun, according to Kellner’s letter.
“I have considered the proposition that if the individual was only carrying a simulated firearm, Officer Gruszeczka’s account that the individual was struggling to maintain control of it would potentially make less sense — after all, why would an individual struggle with the police to keep control of a fake weapon?” Kellner wrote. “In reviewing all the evidence presented by the CIRT investigation, I conclude that it is possible that nobody involved in this (incident), including the individual himself, believed the item to be anything other than a legitimate firearm.”
He found that Gruszeczka reasonably believed the gun was real and reasonably feared for his own life when he killed Jor’Dell. Kellner also noted that Jor’Dell’s statement of “Stop please, you got me,” could only be heard on Snapp’s body-worn camera footage, not on Gruszeczka’s footage, and the officer did not report hearing that statement.
Additionally, Jor’Dell was still struggling with the officers despite asking them to stop, which further justified the shooting, Kellner found.
Acevedo said the shooting was a tragedy in a statement Wednesday.
“Regardless of this finding, the death of a young man is a tragedy for his family and extended community, and it will continue to weigh heavily on members of our department,” he said in the statement.
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