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

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The situation at the Aurora Police Department looks increasingly grim every day after an officer shot an Aurora man in the back through the front window of his house last week.

The APD communications department has apparently stopped responding to phone calls, email and social media requests for information from Sentinel Colorado. Other media are reporting similar issues, suggesting the department is now in siege mode, or simply too overwhelmed to provide public information.

Problems with extracting information from Aurora police has been ongoing, but it’s most pronounced when officers kill or injure civilians they encounter during police calls.

Three people have died or been injured at the hands of Aurora police this year. The most recent incident involved Andy Huff, who was shot through a window, in the back, in his living room Oct. 10 by police outside his house, late at night.

Thin information from police is backed up by witness statements saying that the officer who shot Huff never announced he was outside the residence in the dark. According to police, the officer saw that Huff had what appeared to be a gun. The cop then fired at least four times, hitting Huff once in the buttocks. He was critically injured but survived.

Police released almost no information for days. On Tuesday, police released Huff’s name and said charges would be filed against Huff for allegedly assaulting a former roommate, which prompted the entire affair.

Despite a dearth of details from police about what they say happened, what little they’ve released is a story with serious holes, inconsistencies and dubious recollections.

What looks like a cover-up may be nothing more than poor communication and public information policy.

Police are trying to make it look as if they responded to an assault complaint at 7 p.m., called in by former roommate George Gutierrez. Information in a court affidavit created by police builds a case that Gutierrez was victimized by Huff and his brother. Police say they acted on Gutierrez’ claims, obtained a warrant, scoped out Huff’s cars, obtained another warrant and finally made it to Huff’s home near midnight to “ask questions.”

Oddly, the affidavit in this case was created to focus on possible charges against Huff for the assault allegations against Gutierrez. However the bulk of the affidavit focuses on the events that led to police shooting Huff. With an incomplete report and so much withheld information, the affidavit paints an inaccurate picture of what occurred during the shooting.

Missing from the police account is insistence by the Huff brothers that police were called to their home about the Gutierrez complaint at 1 p.m. earlier that day, and that both brothers provided their phone numbers to police.

Gutierrez was coincidentally X-rayed at a nearby hospital by Huff’s wife. She said he told her then he wouldn’t let her husband and brother “get away with it.”

Police never mention the 1 p.m .encounter in their social media releases about the case nor is it in the police affidavit.

Also missing is notation about Gutierrez’ serious and extensive felony past, which includes a conviction of false reporting to Aurora Police.

Since Aurora police currently do not hold press conferences on cases where officers shoot people, nor do they return calls to the media, it’s difficult to reconcile this and other inconsistencies and holes in the story.

On Wednesday, police said this on a web blog: “In the evening hours of Thursday, October 10, 2019…”

Actually, an affidavit makes it clear the shooting occurred near midnight.  The time is important because police say that while they “approached” Huff’s home, they saw him, first at his truck outside, then inside the fully lighted house. 

What they don’t say is that they parked their cars far away and out of sight of the Huff home. They apparently then sneaked onto Huff’s property. It’s unclear why they would perform such a maneuver with four patrol officers if they truly were contacting Huff near midnight to ask questions. If police were expecting firearm trouble, they were woefully unprepared for it.

An attorney for Huff said some witnesses have said they saw police appear to knockout outside lights with a police flashlight, making the outside of the house even darker. 

Police have so far offered nothing compelling to show that Huff saw anyone before he went inside the house. Police reveal in their own photo, made from a police body cam, that an officer is standing about 15 feet or farther from what they describe themselves as a fully lighted interior.

One officer said she waved at whom she assumed was Huff inside the house and was “certain” he saw her and saw that she was a cop.

You don’t have to be a detective to understand that anyone inside a brightly lighted room can’t see much of anything on the other side of a window, into the dark, even just a few feet away.

It’s disturbing that the police are willing to release one still photo now, in an effort to build a case, but not the entire video, which may prove to be much more insightful. Police and district attorney officials repeatedly say their priority is preserving the “integrity” of the case, but capricious moves like this raise grim concerns about integrity in general. 

Huff’s story was that he might have seen or heard something outside, but that he had no reason to think it would be cops, sneaking around his yard and “waving” in the dark. He said he thought it was his angry roommate. So he got his gun.

Police said that the waving cop knocked on the front door at the same time an armed officer said something like “gun” and immediately fired, while Huff had his back to the window.

It could be that the sound of the knock at the door, assuming it wasn’t a timid tapping, startled the other officer into firing his gun. Police won’t say.

The problem now is it appears that police are trying to build a public case and a legal one against Huff. And they’re doing it with a story full of holes and inconsistencies.

This case and police integrity are now hopelessly compromised.

It’s never been more important for Gov. Jared Polis to intervene in a case where police kill and maim people. An independent investigation, possibly by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, is critical to ensure that important evidence is preserved and that an accurate account of what happened is presented to authorities outside the 18th Judicial District.

DA George Brauchler would be wise to lobby for such intervention and to recommend another district attorney present the case to a grand jury.

Sadly, Aurora police and Arapahoe County district attorney investigators have made clear they cannot be trusted to offer an impartial account of what happened. To protect the officers involved and the department itself, as well as the interests of the public and the man whom police shot, Polis must intervene.

Aurora now has a serious problem inside the police department. This case is further damaged each day. Rather than look the other way, the city council and city administrators must immediately intervene and take control of what is clearly out of control.