2 Colorado officers under investigation after violent arrest
AURORA, Colo. (AP) — A Colorado police officer has been arrested on felony charges after a video showed him using his pistol to beat a man he was attempting to arrest, choking him and threatening to kill him, and a second officer was also arrested after authorities say she failed to stop her colleague as required by a new police accountability law.
Body camera footage was shown Tuesday at a news conference of the Friday incident that happened in the Denver suburb of Aurora, whose police department has been plagued by numerous police misconduct cases in recent years including the 2019 death of Elijah McClain.
The man repeatedly says “You’re killing me, bro,” as Aurora police Officer John Haubert holds him down and strikes him, the video shows.
“If you move, I will shoot you,” Haubert says. The officer says repeatedly “Stop fighting,” as the man cries and gasps for air.
Video shows Haubert yelling at the man to roll over on his stomach and show his hands to which the man complies.
“I need water,” the man cries as the body camera footage comes to an end.
Aurora police Chief Vanessa Wilson called the arrest a “very despicable act” at the press conference.
“This video will shock your conscience. It is very disturbing,” said Wilson, who took over the department last year. “We’re disgusted. We’re angry. This is not police work. We don’t train this.”
Haubert is under investigation over possible attempted first-degree assault, second-degree assault and felony menacing in connection with the Friday incident, according to arrest warrant affidavits written by an Aurora police detective and obtained by The Denver Post.
Officer Francine Martinez faces charges over allegedly not intervening to try to stop Haubert’s purported use of force, the documents say. A new Colorado police accountability law requires law enforcement to intervene when they witness abuses of force.
Both officers have turned themselves in. It wasn’t immediately known if they had attorneys.
Haubert and Martinez were dispatched Friday afternoon to investigate a trespassing report, according to the arrest warrant affidavit. The officers encountered three people who had outstanding felony warrants and tried to arrest them. Two ran way during the incident and have not been arrested as of Tuesday, Wilson said.
The video shows Haubert draw his pistol and point it at the third suspect, who did not resist.
Wilson referred to the video where the man can be heard saying he didn’t have a warrant. “We don’t believe he knew that he actually had an existing warrant. It sounds like it may have come out of a probation violation,” she said.
Haubert allegedly grabbed the back of the man’s neck, pressed his gun against the man’s head, then struck the man’s head with his pistol at least seven times while ordering him to lie on his stomach, the documents say.
Police body camera footage released Tuesday shows the the man bleeding from his head with a large golf-ball sized lump on his left temple as he struggles on the ground and cries for help.
He did not suffer serious bodily injury but he did sustain welts and an abrasion on his head that required six stitches, police said.
A still image taken from an officer’s body camera footage and included in the affidavit allegedly shows Haubert choking the man. On the footage, Haubert told a sergeant after the arrest, “I was going to shoot him but I didn’t know if I had a round in it or not,” the documents state. Haubert also said blood on the man was from “pistol-whipping him.”
Aurora’s troubled police department has been involved in several abuse-of-force incidents in recent years. The most egregious was the death of McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after being confronted by police responding to a citizen’s call about a “suspicious” person in their neighborhood.
Wilson became the first female to permanently lead the Aurora Police Department when she got the job in August 2020. At the time, the department was looking to regain public trust following a tumultuous year since the death of McClain, whom officers stopped on the street and put into a chokehold.
Wilson, who is white, has 23 years of experience with the Police Department in Colorado’s third-largest city, a diverse community east of Denver. She got the job over three other nationwide finalists — all Black men.
Colorado’s Legislature passed a bill last year that, among other things, requires all officers to use body cameras by July 2023, bans chokeholds, limits potentially lethal uses of force and removes qualified immunity from police, potentially exposing officers to lawsuits for their actions in use of force cases.
The 2020 law also bars police from using deadly force against suspects they believe are armed unless there is an imminent threat of a weapon being used. It requires officers to intervene when seeing use of excessive force by colleagues and to report such cases to superiors.
Lawmakers strengthened that law this year to, in part, encourage more officers to use their body cameras and promote “de-escalation techniques” in police encounters.
Wilson said she moved quickly to put the officers on leave and release the body camera footage to shed light on an incident she said is “anomaly” in a department trying to do better. She apologized to the man who was beaten up.
“This is not the Aurora police department,” Wilson said. “This was criminal.”
This story has been updated to correct that Elijah McClain died in 2019, not 2018.
Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert contributed to this report.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.