AURORA | Jor’Dell Richardson’s family and friends confronted Aurora interim police chief Art Acevedo and District Attorney John Kellner at a forum Wednesday, venting their anguish over Richardson’s death at the hands of police and demanding consequences for the officers involved.
“My family will not be able to get over this, the kids in my family, my sons. This is all they think about, all they talk about. This changed their DNA,” said Jaleesa Smith, one of Richardson’s aunts. “(Richardson) was not some hoodlum. He was a 14-year-old child who was loved and beloved by everyone in his community.”
Richardson, 14, was shot and killed by an Aurora officer in June after police say he was involved in an armed robbery and tried to flee the scene of the crime, reaching for a pellet gun that resembled a firearm once another officer tackled him to the ground.
While police and Kellner’s office have argued that their version of events is supported by surveillance video, eyewitness accounts and body-worn camera footage, this official narrative held little sway over the dozens of activists who showed up Wednesday at Arapahoe County’s CentrePoint Plaza building in Aurora to express their anger.
Sometimes shouting or speaking through tears, friends and supporters shared fond memories of Richardson and characterized his death as the latest example of Aurora police unnecessarily taking the life of a Black youth.
“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. “That baby was on the ground pleading for himself.”
She later described Richardson as a peacemaker with a sense of humor who enjoyed playing sports with his friends and spent many afternoons at her house.
Owens said he had been trying to get a ride the day of the shooting and speculated that he got into a car with people whom he didn’t know before the robbery took place.
She and family friend Yolanda Gonzales both said Richardson was a positive influence among his peers.
“He would be the one to always hold them together and keep them on a good path. He wasn’t the type of kid to say, ‘Let’s go rob somebody,’” Gonzales said. “He would come to our house, and I used to take him home to his mom around 9 or 10. We don’t let our kids walk on the streets, because we’re scared, because of the cops.”
Acevedo was mostly silent as attendees lambasted his tenure as interim chief of the Aurora Police Department, which he was chosen to lead in November 2022.
“We need people who are reliable, who are going to protect these children, because at the end of the day, I have a 13-year-old. He’s about to be 14. Is he next?,” Aurora resident Kevin Detreville, who is Black, asked Acevedo. “You need to do the right thing, and bow out, and let this community heal.”
Toward the end of the forum, Nate Kassa, a Party for Socialism and Liberation organizer active in Aurora, asked Acevedo directly whether he would step down. Acevedo said he would not, prompting many of those present to heckle him and chant “if we don’t get it, shut it down,” before walking out.
After the event, Acevedo said in response to the comments by Richardson’s friends and family that “whether an officer-involved shooting is justified or not justified, that doesn’t matter to people who know and love someone like Jor’Dell.”
“Your heart breaks, especially for the family, for his mom,” Acevedo said. “I’m glad I was here to listen and take in the community angst from this group of folks.”
A group of students who attended school with Richardson addressed the chief for about 14 minutes, describing how their friend’s death meant they would never again hear Richardson’s “contagious” laugh, shoot hoops together or exchange text messages with the teen.
“My brother had to pay his consequences with his life, but the officer who killed my brother, he didn’t have to pay no consequences,” one boy said. “The man who killed my brother didn’t even get charged, but my brother got sentenced to death over a pellet gun.”
Kellner was called on twice by speakers to explain his office’s decision not to criminally charge the two officers involved in Richardson’s death, Roch Gruszeczka and James Snapp. Both times, Kellner was shouted down as he tried to respond.
Before he was cut off, Kellner mentioned his prosecution of John Haubert, a former Aurora cop who pistol-whipped a man suspected of trespassing in 2021 and was subsequently charged with assault. Haubert’s trial is scheduled to begin in January.
Siddhartha Rathod, an attorney representing the Richardson family, later said they plan to bring a civil lawsuit against the police department and Gruszeczka. He also criticized Acevedo and said the chief was withholding video footage showing officers picking up Richardson’s pellet gun.
“Another Black child has been killed in Aurora, and four months later the family still waits for accountability,” Rathod wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, this has become a disturbing pattern in Aurora.”
Wednesday’s event was hosted by the Racial Equity Subcommittee of the Arapahoe County Justice Coordinating Committee, which was created to advise local representatives of the criminal justice system.
Numerous state and county officials showed up to hear community members’ ideas for improving the justice system in Arapahoe County, as commissioners pointed out the unique opportunity presented by bringing decision-makers such as Acevedo, Kellner and Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown together under the same roof.
“Our role is to listen tonight,” Commissioner Jeff Baker said. “We want to hear from people. We were struggling with how we can hear from the community that the criminal justice system has affected. And here, really, we’ve got the people in the room who can make a difference.”
Shortly after the forum began, a large group of activists entered the meeting room located on the west side of the CentrePoint Plaza building, chanting and carrying signs which demanded the firing and prosecution of Gruszeczka and Snapp as well as the resignation of Acevedo.
A banner carried by some members of the group bore the logo of the Denver-Aurora Community Action Committee, an activist organization that has called for criminal charges to be filed against police officers involved in other shootings around the metro area.
While the Denver-Aurora Community Action Committee said in a social media post that the event was moved from its original location at the Second Chance Center on Potomac Street to the CentrePoint Plaza building due to police perceiving the committee as a threat, county spokesman Anders Nelson disputed this and said the same-day change of venue reflected the county’s desire to accommodate more people in a larger space.
Democratic State Rep. Tim Hernandez, who represents west and northwest Denver, sat among the activists who challenged Kellner and Acevedo. Hernandez, too, called for their resignations, accusing Acevedo of lying when he initially told the public that Jor’Dell had a firearm rather than a pellet gun that resembled a firearm.
“That is villainizing a Black boy in a community that you do not know, that you do not serve and you didn’t even know before you got here,” Hernandez said. “You’ve got to go. We don’t want you.”
Hernandez also called on those present to recall Kellner.
“I am not surprised that a member of the Republican Party, who won by less than 1,500 votes in the election in (2020), chose not to prosecute officers who murdered a 14-year-old child,” he said and was cheered by the crowd.
No clear course of action emerged from the forum — Acevedo and Kellner did not commit to stepping down or pursuing prosecutions against Gruszeczka and Snapp — regardless, the facilitators of the event expressed gratitude for the candid statements by attendees.
Commissioner Leslie Summey said the event illustrated how Aurorans are still grieving the death of Richardson. She added that the people who had the power to implement changes in the criminal justice system were present in the room.
Summey, who is Black, also spoke about her experience of teaching her son to be aware of his surroundings while jogging in public, which she described as “the same thing … that my parents had to teach me in the ’60s.”
“What we need to do is examine our systems that have been in place to be judge, jury and executioner of Black and brown people for centuries in this country,” Summey said.
“We are asking for that to stop. That’s all. We want to make sure that when our children go out, and they make a mistake, they have an opportunity to come home.”