AURORA | Two Aurora police officers won’t face charges for their roles in the June shooting of Jor’Dell Richardson, 14, who allegedly grabbed for a replica firearm while trying to escape the scene of an armed robbery.
Officers Roch Gruszeczka, who fired the fatal shot, and James Snapp, who tackled Richardson, were both cleared by 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner in a letter released Wednesday.
While Kellner called the shooting “tragic” and said Richardson’s family had described the teen as “an intelligent, motivated young man with a promising future,” the DA ultimately found that Snapp was justified in chasing down and tackling Richardson, and also that Gruszeczka’s decision to pull the trigger was reasonable.
“The evidence shows that at the time of deploying lethal force, Officer Gruszeczka possessed an objectively reasonable belief that lesser degrees of force were inadequate to the situation, and an objectively reasonable belief that both he and Officer Snapp were in danger of being killed or receiving serious bodily injury,” Kellner wrote.
“As such, his actions fall within the statutory framework for legally justified use of lethal force by a peace officer, and criminal charges cannot legally or ethically be pursued in this case.”
Qusair Mohamedbhai, an attorney representing the Richardson family, said Richardson’s parents were “disappointed” by the DA’s decision not to file criminal charges.
“The family is grieving and are exploring all their legal options, including civil litigation,” Mohamedbhai said. “They remain determined to hold accountable the officer who shot and killed their son.”
In a statement, Aurora Police Department Chief Art Acevedo said he agreed with Kellner’s findings and called the shooting “a tragedy for his family and extended community” that would “continue to weigh heavily on members of our department.”
He said the department was finishing up its internal investigation into the actions of Gruszeczka and Snapp to determine whether the officers had acted in accordance with department policies.
“It’s my hope that our community will come closer together and direct our collective energy toward comprehensive, meaningful and lasting solutions to empower our youth,” Acevedo said. “This effort will not succeed unless we secure commitments from a wide range of community, business, and government leaders.”
According to investigators, while on patrol June 1, an Aurora Police Department sergeant spotted Richardson among a group of people standing outside of a convenience store near East Eighth Avenue and North Dayton Street wearing masks and hooded sweatshirts despite warm weather.
The same sergeant located a stolen minivan nearby and called for backup. Suspecting a robbery was about to take place, Gruszeczka and Snapp responded.
A clerk who was working in the convenience store later said the group came into the store, and a youth who investigators believe was Richardson demanded vape products and threatened the clerk by showing her a pellet gun that resembled a semiautomatic pistol tucked into his waistband.
Kellner wrote that other members of the group who were caught by police later said they were given the replica gun by an unidentified third party and that they thought it was a real firearm.
Leaving the store with stolen merchandise, the group encountered Gruszeczka and Snapp, who chased Richardson into the alley behind the store.
As Snapp tackled Richardson, Gruszeczka saw what he thought to be a firearm in Richardson’s waistband, and yelled, “Gun!” Gruszeczka then dove on top of Richardson, and, according to Kellner, the teenager began reaching for the pellet gun:
”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. 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. Officer Gruszeczka fired one round into the midsection of the individual causing the individual to lose control of the gun. Officer Gruszeczka then threw the gun clear of himself and Officer Snapp. Both Officer Gruszeczka and Officer Snapp then began performing first-aid on the individual until the arrival of medical personnel.“
While Kellner acknowledges that Richardson said “you got me” immediately before he was shot, the DA notes that Gruszeczka did not recall the statement by Richardson, that it was not audible in the officer’s body-worn camera recording, and that it occurred while the alleged struggle for the pellet gun was taking place.
Aurora police previously released multiple sources of video footage of the shooting, including the body-worn camera footage filmed from the perspectives of Gruszeczka and Snapp. However, the footage failed to show what exactly the teen was doing when he was shot.
“Due to the position of the body-worn camera, the placement of Officer Gruszeczka’s hands and the individual’s hands are not visible at the time Officer Gruszeczka fires his weapon,” Kellner wrote.
“Nonetheless, the body-worn camera does corroborate Officer Gruszeczka’s description of a physical struggle between him and the individual, his commands to drop the gun, and warning of the use of lethal force to the individual being given prior to the shot being fired.”
Kellner also suggests that Richardson would have struggled for the replica gun because “information provided from the additional armed robbery suspects arrested on scene indicates that all the participants of the armed robbery, including the individual involved in the (officer-involved shooting) himself, likely believed the simulated firearm was, in fact, real.”
After the shooting, the DA said police “immediately” identified the item in Richardson’s possession as a pellet gun and that the information was relayed to investigators with the police department as well as the 18th Judicial District’s Critical Incident Response Team the same day.
Acevedo faced criticism for initially reporting that Richardson was armed with a firearm and not publicly acknowledging that the item was actually a pellet gun until more than a week after the shooting. He later blamed this on miscommunication within the department.
Police spokesman Matthew Longshore said Acevedo has since implemented a new policy regarding information-sharing following critical incidents.