AURORA | A man who was held at gunpoint, tackled to the ground and tased by Aurora police in 2021 is suing officers for what he says is an example of the department using excessive force against unarmed Black residents.
In May 2021, Preston Nunn was pulled over after police say he drove too close to an officer conducting a traffic stop. Body-worn camera footage published by the Aurora Police Department shows officer Gabriel Nestor approaching Nunn’s window and asking for his driver’s license and registration.
After Nunn hands Nestor his registration, he reaches into his pocket, where the complaint filed in the 17th Judicial District says Nunn kept his wallet and license. Nestor responds by aiming his gun at Nunn, yelling at Nunn to “stop digging.”
“Why are you digging in your pants like that? Put your f—–g hands on your face!,” Nestor says.
Nunn and his female passenger comply and put their hands on their faces. Nestor uses his radio to request additional officers. Nunn’s passenger points out to Nestor that the officer had asked Nunn for his wallet.
“And then he started digging in his pants,” Nestor replies.
As more officers arrive, Nunn gets out of his car. Nunn’s lawsuit states that, at that moment, he was “terrified at the sight of more squad cars, Officer Nestor’s drawn firearm and at the sight of his frightened female passenger.”
Officers aim their handguns at Nunn. Nunn yells that he has his driver’s license. An officer identified in the lawsuit as Cody Goetz charges at Nunn and tackles him to the ground.
Nunn yells repeatedly that he has his license and registration as multiple officers pin him on the ground. The officer identified as Goetz applies a chokehold to Nunn, a technique outlawed in 2020. Nestor tases Nunn twice while he is being held on the ground.
“I have my license and registration!,” Nunn yells. “I have everything! You all have no right!”
After officers finish struggling with Nunn, he asks if his nose was bleeding. Nestor tells him that medics are coming and that Nunn is bleeding from a cut on his head as well.
“Why did you bang my head to the ground like that? Why did you do that?,” Nunn asks.
“You about got shot, bud,” Nestor says.
“You should have shot me, then,” Nunn says.
“I know,” Nestor replies. “I’m glad I didn’t.”
Nunn was arrested but never charged
Crist Whitney, a lawyer representing Nunn, said Nunn was arrested that night on suspicion of obstruction, resisting arrest, failure to obey a lawful order, failure to yield right of way to an emergency vehicle and possession of an open container of alcohol.
However, Nunn said Adams County prosecutors never filed charges, and a search of Colorado court records indicates Nunn was never formally charged.
Aurora police declined to comment on the lawsuit, which was filed May 15, exactly two years after the traffic stop that Nunn says left him physically and emotionally traumatized. He said he thinks about his encounter with police every day and that he still has a scar on the top of his head from where it struck the concrete when Goetz tackled him.
“I look in the mirror, and that just brings back just what happened to me every day,” Nunn said. “What happened to me is just not OK. I just don’t want that to happen to anyone else as well.”
He said he was not aware of Aurora police imposing any discipline on the officers involved in the incident. The Sentinel has requested internal affairs records and other documents from the Aurora Police Department and is awaiting a response.
Whitney put the stop in the context of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office’s investigation of the department, which in 2021 concluded that Aurora police were disproportionately using force against people of color.
The investigation led to the adoption of the consent decree that the department is currently operating under, which in part mandates reforms meant to break patterns of biased policing.
“Officers in the Denver metro area, they’ve been very quick to pull their weapon on Black men when it’s not at all warranted,” Whitney said. “There’s no question that had Mr. Nunn been an older white man, this would not have occurred.”
A firm tasked with monitoring Aurora’s compliance with the consent decree also questioned Nestor’s handling of the stop as well as the department’s handling of Nestor in a report last fall.
According to the report, the department’s Force Review Board found that Nestor made a legal traffic stop and used his body-worn camera appropriately but “could have been more professional” and “more in control of himself.” The board also recommended that Nestor receive training on the use of stun guns and investigating driving under the influence.
But the firm monitoring Aurora’s compliance questioned why the board didn’t weigh Nestor’s “unsatisfactory” performance in another use-of-force incident a month earlier along with an incident in October 2020 when Nestor was reprimanded for causing a “serious traffic crash.”
“The fact that this situation unnecessarily evolved into one that came perilously close to an officer involved shooting did not consume the Board,” the monitor wrote.
The firm also pointed out that the Force Review Board did not consider the possible consequences of Nunn being tackled by an officer while multiple officers were pointing their guns at him, and said the board was not critical enough when evaluating officer conduct.
Nunn’s complaint accuses Goetz and Nestor of violating Nunn’s rights described in Colorado’s constitution to be free from excessive force and accuses all of the officers present of failing to intervene when excessive force was used, along with unlawful seizure, denial of equal protections and malicious prosecution.
Nunn is seeking an amount of money in damages that will be determined at trial. Whitney said Nunn was right to be fearful of Aurora police when they pulled him over two years ago.
“There’s no reason that officer Nestor should have pointed his gun at Mr. Nunn when he was just asking for a license,” he said. “At that point, Mr. Nunn had every right to be terrified.”
While the officer’s conduct can certainly be questioned, Mr. Nunn was not terrified. It makes for a good excuse when you ignore officers’ commands and get out of your car and disobey all commands. The officer’s lack of emotional control is a concern and certainly should be the subject of some discipline. It is, however, the officer’s decision to draw his gun when he fears that a person may be going for a gun. Pointing it and losing control after telling the subject to produce his license shows a rookie loss of emotional control. In the end, Mr. Nunn will make a lot of money for his erratic behavior.
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