AURORA | A week after the Aurora police shooting of an unarmed black man being arrested by a SWAT team, police officials released the name of the officer who fired the lethal shot, but officials said little else about the incident that drew a second protest in as many days.
About 40 people turned out Thursday evening for the second protest at city hall, mostly peaceful, bent on pushing police to at least tell the public what happened during the March 6 arrest gone wrong, which led to paroled convict Naeschylus Vinzant, age 37.
The protest drew Aurora state legislator Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who joined the group in asking for information and an open investigation.
“I’m looking for transparency,” with the investigation, Fields said.
Police yesterday identified the shooting officer as Aurora police SWAT veteran Paul Jerothe, with the department since 2006. He is part of the Aurora Police SWAT team and shot Vinzant once in the chest, although no details about the shooting have been made public.
Police have now said they will no longer comment at all about the shooting, referring reporters to Jefferson County district attorney investigators. The case was transferred out of Arapahoe County because Jerothe was on the scene of the 2012 Aurora theater shooting and will play some role in the imminent trial of James Holmes. To avoid an appearance of conflict of interest, the Vinzant case has been moved to an outside prosecutor.
The moves and lack of information continue to frustrate Vinzant’s family and police critics, especially in the light of national controversy over police shootings of blacks.
“We understand the community’s frustration with the lack of information being released about this case,” said Police Chief Nick Metz. “To ensure a full and thorough investigation and to protect its integrity for Mr. Vinzant’s family, the officer and the community, we must be judicious in limiting the release of information that might jeopardize the final outcome of this case.”
Heavy police presence at Thursday’s protest was obvious, with numerous rifled police on city buildings at the city hall complex at East Alameda Parkway near South Chambers Road.
Signs at the protest read, “This is the new Jim Crow” and “Words alone don’t bring justice.”
The protest started and ended peacefully, with one contentious moment where pro-police activists argued briefly with police critics.
In 2013 Jerothe was named the National Tactical Officers Association’s Tactical EMS officer of the year for his role in the July 2012 Aurora theater shooting.
“Officer Jerothe provided medical assistance to numerous victims, ultimately saving many of their lives,” the organization said in announcing the award.
After a week of investigation, police had not concluded interviews with Jerothe about the shooting. Officials said he was put on administrative leave and hired an attorney to represent him, standard practice across the country.
Police were able to get a statement from Jerothe Thursday, but they released only his name and no other details.
Police said Monday that Vinzant was wanted on kidnapping, robbery and parole violation charges when he was being sought for arrest and shot.
During a protest Wednesday, anti-police activist Shareef Aleem, the organizer behind a longtime critic of Aurora police, said Vinzant’s shooting has angered people in part because it stands in stark contrast to the arrest of accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, who despite killing 12, wounding dozens more and being heavily armed, was taken into police custody without incident.
Aleem said Thursday he was pleased police released the name of the officer that shot Vinzant, but he’s frustrated they can’t get details about the shooting almost a week after it occurred.
“This isn’t how police handle other shootings in the city,” Aleem said. “The police are usually forthright about information when someone else is the shooter, but this makes it look like they have something to hide.”
“A. Jackson, 27, of Denver, said Wednesday he knew Vinzant briefly and was a godmother to his children.
Fighting back tears, Jackson, who asked to only give her first initial, said Wednesday his death was just the latest in a string of unnecessary deaths of unarmed black men in this country at the hands of police.
She said she was especially frustrated with the slow pace of information from police.“It’s unfair all the way around. How do you explain that to his kids?” She said.
“They don’t want the truth to be told of what really happened,” she said.
She said the community’s anger will only grow if police don’t release more information.
“When you hide the information, what does that lead to? Raging in frustration,” she said.
Metz stressed again Wednesday that he was completely confident in the way officers are handling the case. He said when he arrived at the scene that afternoon, he found a crime scene that was under complete control and detectives asking all the right questions.
Metz said the uproar last year in Ferguson, Missouri, is definitely on his mind as he goes forward with this case.
“I think any chief who is dealing with this goes right back to what happened there,” he said.
Metz said he didn’t want to criticize another department, but he said there are lessons to be learned from Ferguson.
“Everybody recognizes that there are certain things you do and you don’t do,” he said. “And there are certain things you do that are going to inflame a situation more than you have to.”
THURSDAY POLICE STATEMENT
Aurora Police are identifying the officer involved in the officer involved shooting that occurred on March 6th in the 16200 Block of East 12th Avenue.
The officer involved in the incident is Paul Jerothe. Officer Jerothe has been employed with the Aurora Police Department since 2006. His current duty assignment is SWAT Paramedic with the Aurora Police SWAT Team. He has no prior officer involved shootings.
Detectives with the Major Crimes Unit were able to conduct an interview with Officer Jerothe earlier today. Once detectives have completed their investigation the facts of the case will be presented to Peter Weir, the District Attorney for Jefferson County, who will then make a determination on appropriate actions. We have been directed by the district attorney’s office not to release any additional information about this case.
Chief of Police Nick Metz wants to reassure the members of our community that a thorough investigation is being completed into this case, he said, “We understand the community’s frustration with the lack of information being released about this case. To ensure a full and thorough investigation and to protect its integrity for Mr. Vinzant’s family, the officer and the community, we must be judicious in limiting the release of information that might jeopardize the final outcome of this case.”