Aurora police release scant details on spate of lethal, injurious interactions between officers and residents

Aurora Police Deputy Chief Paul O’Keefe answers questions surrounding Aurora recent police-related shootings at a press conference on Oct. 25. The police conference was held at the Aurora Police Department Headquarters. Photo by Ali C. M. Watkins/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Aurora police released few new details regarding a trio of recent, violent encounters between officers and residents at a press conference Friday, saying their hands are tied by district attorneys who urge investigators not to disclose information.

Police called the press conference after family members and attorneys have for weeks criticized how the department has handled the death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain in late August, the police shooting of 22-year-old Andy Huff earlier this month, and the police shooting of an unidentified man on Oct. 20.

“We want to make sure that the community at large knows, we haven’t forgotten about any of these cases,” Deputy Chief Paul O’Keefe said.

O’Keefe will serve as the department’s interim chief following the retirement of current Chief Nick Metz at the end of the year. Metz was out of town Friday attending the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a spokesman said.

Attorneys and family members have called for the public release of all materials related to the investigation of the incident involving McClain Aug. 24. Police detained the Aurora man as he was walking at about 10:30 p.m. in the 1900 block of Billings Street, injected him with a medication and loaded him into an ambulance. He had a heart attack en route to the hospital, and he died six days later.

McClain, who was black, was unarmed at the time of the encounter.

Citing directives from 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young, O’Keefe said police are barred from releasing additional information, though the McClain family and their attorney were invited to watch the body camera footage last month.

“We take our direction for release of information pretty much directly from the district attorney’s office,” O’Keefe said. “ … We are not going to release anything that would be prejudicial to any kind of a case prior to their —one — authority — and two — we really want them to have the opportunity to review all of that material without having any sort of prejudicial information getting out there.”

All three officers involved in detaining McClain have returned to regular duty after being placed on administrative leave for several weeks.

The McClain family’s attorney, Mari Newman, claimed police “tortured” McClain, though O’Keefe disagreed with that description. 

“I think the term ‘torture’ is a mischaracterization,” he said.

O’Keefe also addressed the Oct. 10 shooting of 22-year-old Andy Huff inside of his home at 1570 S. Bahama St, releasing few new details but maintaining that Huff knew police were outside of his home when he brandished a shotgun and faced officers.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Huff knew it was the police that were there and (he) went and grabbed that firearm anyway,” O’Keefe said. 

He did not elaborate on how investigators came to that conclusion but said additional details are forthcoming.

“Once that case is thoroughly reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office, the specific details about how we believe that to be true will come out,” he said.

O’Keefe said the responding officers did not announce themselves as Aurora Police, but one officer ordered Huff to drop his weapon moments before shooting him. It’s unclear whether Huff heard the command. Police did not say what evidence they had to support the assertion. 

While Huff faced officers while holding a shotgun inside of his home, O’Keefe did not clarify whether Huff pointed the weapon directly at police.

Huff was shot in the back by officer Alexander Ord.

Ord, a two-year veteran of the department, remains on administrative leave, though several other responding officers have returned to normal duty, according to O’Keefe.

Huff has been charged with a pair of assault charges and a menacing charge in connection with a suspected assault at this home earlier in the day.

On the Oct. 20 shooting, police clarified that an Aurora officer shot an unidentified man who appeared to be holding a gun when police arrived to a disturbance call at 9121 E. 14th Ave.

The person who was shot crawled back into a nearby apartment through a garden-level window before eventually being taken to a hospital, according to O’Keefe. Police later found a rifle inside the residence.

The man, who remains unidentified, was in serious condition following the shooting, but is expected to survive his injuries, O’Keefe said.

The man has yet to be charged with any specific crimes. The officer who shot the man remains on administrative leave.

O’Keefe defended officers’ actions in the recent interactions, saying police often make highly consequential decisions in a matter of seconds. 

“I think what this is reflective of is a general sense that officers have more time than they actually have to make what are life and death decisions in a matter of moments,” he said. “In each of these cases — all of them different — … it will come to light, especially when body cam video gets out, that the amount of time our folks, or any law enforcement folks, have is tiny compared to the opportunity to review it later on in the comfort of an office somewhere.”

RELATED: Parents of man shot in the back by cops standing outside home refute assertions son knew they were officers

RELATEDPERRY: Aurora police destroy public trust withholding details about cop shooting man through home window

RELATEDEDITORIAL: Gov. Polis must intervene in botched case of Aurora cop shooting man in the back

RELATEDPERRY: Stop letting police control the information about the people they kill