PERRY: Olde Town Arvada shooting debacle reveals heroes, humans and our lethal gun obsession

John Hurley from his FaceBook pages and that of We Are Change Colorado

Even the most recent development in the story of a cop hunted down and killed by an armed man in Arvada, who was then killed by an armed bystander, who was then killed by a responding officer, reveals how complicated and dangerous our gun obsession has become.

This week, Jefferson County prosecutors announced they would not file charges against Arvada Police officer Kraig Brownlow for shooting dead John Hurley during a gunfire melee on June 21 in Olde Town Arvada.

So far, most of the TV and other coverage has glossed over the excruciating complications of the tragedy and lit up headlines with the usual clickbait about heroes, fallen officers and, yes, another mass shooting.

The Associated Press and other media outlets described Brownlow shooting Hurley as “accidental.”

It was no such thing.

Brownlow, like just about every other cop, had trained extensively to deal with catastrophes that have added a whole new lexicon to life in America. The Arvada cop had learned how to “take out” people who are deemed an “active shooter.”

Brownlow purposely and accurately shot Hurley down because he thought Hurley was the active shooter who had just murdered another Arvada Police officer in the popular town square.

He wasn’t.

What Brownlow didn’t know at the time is that Hurley had been shopping at an Army surplus store when he heard gunfire outside. Those shots came from a man later identified as Ronald Troyke.

Troyke was a 59-year-old Arvada man who had become deeply disturbed, collected serious firepower and one day decided he was going to use it to kill as many cops as he could, according to police and Troyke’s own family. In the unnerving recent shadow of the March 22 Boulder King Soopers massacre, Troyke’s family called Arvada police to warn them that he was going to do something “crazy.”

In less than an hour, he did.

Police acted on the tip and sent Arvada Police Officer Gordon Beesley to check out Troyke’s Arvada apartment. About 20 minutes after the warning was phoned in, Troyke had left. Police later said Beesley had just missed him.

An investigation and street video showed Troyke get first a semi-automatic shotgun from his truck parked in Olde Town, then an AK-15 rifle as he stalked Beesley, who was alerted to Troyke’s actions in the town square.

Troyke, armed and dressed to kill in black did just that, shooting Beesley dead. Hurley hears the shots, sees Troyke and assesses the situation, pulls out his own handgun and shoots Troyke dead.

Hurley then runs over to Troyke to grab the rifle. Brownlow, who with other cops have now rushed to the town square on the active shooter call, sees Hurley holding both a handgun and a rifle, and shoots him dead, thinking Hurley was the active shooter.

While he may have made an avoidable mistake, it wasn’t a criminal one, according to Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King.

And so, no charges against Brownlow for not accidentally shooting Hurley, but for making a lethal mistake about what was happening.

Cops shooting the wrong person, or wrongly shooting someone, aren’t new. In Aurora, a cop wrongly shot dead a man protecting his grandson and family from a drug-crazed intruder because of similar confusing circumstances. No charges against police.

An Aurora man who thought police sneaking around his house late at night was a man he’d fought with earlier in the day was wrongly shot by police from outside his living room window because he was retrieving a gun to protect himself. No charges against police.

While the Arvada story is impossibly sad, it’s a perfect picture of how prolific guns, conspiracy theories, apathy, unaccountable police departments and the constant threat of “active shooters” and mass shootings are destroying our nation faster than climate change can.

Not a lot has been released about Troyke, other than he was described as a “disturbed” loner who was compelled to collect astonishingly deadly firearms and ammo with no resistance from anyone. He makes it clear that Colorado’s nascent red flag laws —  allowing police and courts to get guns away from disturbed people like Troyke — are useless if people don’t bother to call police to invoke them.

And even then, police are loath to act on such information. As a society, too many believe in the absolute right to absolutely own any kind of firepower that makes you feel excited and secure, no matter how disturbed you might be.

It begs the question, how disturbed is too disturbed, and what are the red flags that should lead to red flag cases?

Maybe a good red flag is belonging to and interacting with extremist conspiracy groups that actively promote extremist or dangerous ideas. While police say Troyke was among the fringy fringe who threw around the dog whistle “we the people” moniker, so was Hurley, described as a selfless hero and good Samaritan.

He’s become the poster boy for the trope that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Hurley has been painted by family, friends, the media, and even the Arvada Police as nothing but a hero.

But the T-shirt he’s wearing from his Facebook picture, which has become ubiquitous with his story, blurts right out the conspiracy-theory group he belonged to: We Are Change Colorado.

The group uses that photo prominently on its own Facebook page and claims Hurley to be a patron saint of their cause.

“We Are Change is a nonpartisan independent media organization comprised (sic) of patriot journalists working to hold (sic) those engaging in activities that do not represent the wishes of “We the People.”

I get it. They were quick to respond after the June 21 shooting.

“Johnny was one of We Are Changes longest members and a foundational part of WAC,” the group’s Facebook page said in a post.

Its Facebook page is mostly rife with inflammatory anti-vax memes and disinformation, some of it stamped as false by Facebook bots. They describe themselves as “patriot journalists,” doing the job of exposing all the Orwellian government attempts to limit freedoms, like gun freedoms, that mainstream media is too corrupt to handle.

The posts and shares dabble in QAnon stuff, Trump’s Big Lie and a bevy of how The Man is trying hold freedom lovers down.

The only real reference to the Jan. 6 insurrection comes as a repost from Texas conspiracy guru Derrick Broze, who has strong ties to the group.

“One interesting thing I see from today’s events is Trump supporters fighting back against the police,” Broze wrote about the attack on Capitol police. “Perhaps they will see the truth that the police are the backbone of the Police State and it is the police (aka order followers) who will enforce unjust, unconstitutional laws, vaccine mandates, IRS tax mandates, and other illegal actions. No, cops are not automatically the enemy, but they also are not heroes. They are individuals who need to make up their mind about whose side they are on.”

There’s no way of knowing now how much or any of this Hurley agreed with. But no one balks at his insistence he was righteous in carrying a loaded gun, even when he went shopping.

There’s no arguing that Hurley was astonishingly brave to intercede in what could have become another Colorado mass shooting.

But there’s also no denying that the same, adrenaline-charged bravado that prompted Hurley to “take out” a man he assessed as the active shooter was a moment of luck that Officer Brownlow didn’t enjoy.

What if Troyke had also been a “Good Samaritan” with an AK-15 in his truck, which he ran and retrieved to take out the “real” active shooter? Hurley could easily have made the same mistake about Troyke as Brownlow made about him.

While it’s so tempting to see some wisdom in having “good guys with guns” in public because cops can’t be everywhere, it’s a false conclusion.

Police critics, rightfully, argue that Brownlow shouldn’t get a bye on charges because he didn’t work to de-escalate what he saw rather than fire his weapon to stop it. Criminal negligence? Maybe.

Anyone from Aurora can tell you what that’s all about. And police, and prosecutors, too, in this case argue that you can’t hold people to that high of a standard under this kind of chaos and duress.

“This incident illustrates the nearly unfathomable decisions society asks our police officers to make as they go about their everyday work,” the City of Aurora said in a statement.

Those who criticize Hurley for not making it clear he wasn’t the gunman to anyone watching don’t allow him the same benefit of the doubt. He’d just witnessed a cop shooting and thought fast enough to shoot dead an active shooter. In those moments, how could he be expected to ensure he didn’t mistakenly become a police target by simply picking up the gunman’s weapon?

The entire calamity mostly makes you want to avoid all public places, which is a tragedy in itself. But for those of us who still want to go shopping, out to dinner or a concert without worrying about active shooters and trying to signal police or Good Samaritans not to shoot us, there are real answers to the impossible quagmire.

It’s about getting rid of so many guns and especially getting them out of the hands of “disturbed” people. We need to use “Red Flag” laws instead of just passing them.

It’s not impossible to see any clear takeaways from a tortuous disaster that claimed three lives, two of them belonging to innocent, wondrous men.

As the haze clears, it’s apparent that Troyke was disturbed and wrongfully armed.

Beesley was a passionate cop, who never had a chance to defend himself against an over-armed society and disturbed gunman on a mission.

Hurley was foolishly brave and paid for his courage with his life.

Brownlow was equally brave and solely to blame for acting too fast in hindsight and just like he was trained at the time.

The rest of us? Waiting for elected leaders courageous enough to take on “we the people” and their lobbies who conflate guns with liberty. We’re waiting for police everywhere to explain how better training and accountability have made everyone safer.

With incredible grace, Hurley’s mother, through a statement, pointed to her loss and everyone else’s, especially after news from prosecutors about possible criminal action by police. She said it was expected and understandable that people would be angry about some or all parts of the debacle.

“I would ask that instead of acting out on your anger, that you use that energy to be the change you wish to see in the world,” Kathleen Boleyn said. “Engage in meaningful conversations that might make a difference in how we all may move forward together.”

Now would be a good time.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]

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Don Black
Don Black
26 days ago

What the public needs to understand from this tragedy is that unforeseen things happen in stressful situations. The police often are not given accurate information and things are happening quickly. The tragedy with Elijah McClain would not have happened if he had allowed things to slow down and conversation to occur. We understand now that he was, in his words, “different” and reacted out of fear. In our present environment, the media and activists have created more fear that will cause more tragic circumstances when people fail to cooperate. The Kyle Rittenhouse trial shows that a lack of good judgment by all involved in tense circumstances can result in tragedy. The trial involving the death of the white men who killed Mr. Arberry shows what happens when people come together in tense circumstances and don’t allow time for talk and reason to enter into things. Each side makes a quick assessment of the dangers when things are not slowed down. Both sides may have a reasonable belief in the danger and act upon it. Mr. Hurley was a hero. It is unfortunate that he did not understand how he would appear in the situation. Tragic misunderstandings will continue. The public can lessen these by cooperating with the police and understanding the uncertain circumstances that the police confront daily. Meanwhile, let us hope that Mr. Hurley and Elijah McClain are in a better place and that we will learn from these tragedies.

Jeff Ryan
Jeff Ryan
25 days ago
Reply to  Don Black

The case of Elijah McClain is in no way analogous to what happened to Hurley. Particularly weird is this: “The tragedy with Elijah McClain would not have happened if he had allowed things to slow down and conversation to occur.”

Elijah McClain was under no obligation to “allow” anything. He was not committing a crime. The police had neither reasonable suspicion nor probable cause to believe he was committing a crime. They had no cause to lay hands on him or compel him to do anything. All they had the right to do was to bid him good evening, offer him help if he needed it, and let him continue on his way.

Elijah McClain was not standing in whatever passes for a “downtown” here shooting at cops. He didn’t have a gun. He was killed anyway.

Oh, and whenever the police say “he was going for a gun” at the same time their body cams “fell off”, a king-sized dose of skepticism is in order.

Jeff Ryan
Jeff Ryan
26 days ago

This incident is a prime example of the trouble that can happen when armed vigilantes act as “law enforcement”. Vigilantes have no authority to enforce the law; federal, state and local law enforcement agencies do.

But we live in times where civilian fools decide they can better interpret the law and the Constitution than elected officials chosen by the voters. And they are wrong, and this is one reason why.

Mr. Hurley, who was not an officer of the law, managed to do a laudable thing by killing an active shooter. But by doing so, he risked exactly what happened: An actual cop mistook him for the armed shooter and killed him. It is hard to fault that officer, given what he knew and the circumstances at the time. That cop had been trained and certified to act on society’s behalf. Mr. Hurley wasn’t.

And imagine if, instead, the man Hurley shot was not the active shooter but another wannabe like Hurley, out looking to stop a tragedy, another “good” guy with a gun. This is the scenario Wayne LaPierre and the NRA didn’t tell us about. For a very good reason – it illuminates the idiocy of this kind of thinking.

Because we are awash in guns, this scenario will repeat itself. More will grab their guns to get the “bad guy with a gun” whether they know exactly who that is. And more will die at the hands of cops just trying to protect the publc and themselves. So will innocents, caught in the crossfire between wannabe “good guys” and the people actually trained and empowered to enforce the law.

This is insane. Worse, it’s lethal. An armed society isn’t a “polite” society. It’s a terrified society.

25 days ago

Live by the sword (gun), die by the…

Trebor Cadeau
Trebor Cadeau
25 days ago

So.rry that our hero was killed.
Were wife or I to shoot a criminal, if no longer needed we would place our firearm in a visible location and tell police withands in the air. (Unload the firearm if time permits.)
We know that police driving on scene cannot instantly knowho is the bad actor.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
25 days ago

He seems like a nice-enough guy. Whatever possessed him to interfere with police work? Just think–if he hadn’t been carrying a gun that day, he’d still be alive. That is the very-sad part of this whole matter. Our national gun obsession is lethal. I like to say “Guns will be the death of us.”

25 days ago

This Perry rational never stops and members of the public should not own a weapon. It is truly unfortunate and a terrible built-in unintended consequence of the reality of fighting fire with fire. However, anyone that is looking beyond a quick knee-jerk reaction, with the local rag smearing gun owners and politician’s together aka “the rest of us”. How soon Perry forgets, or refuses to consider the Colorado Springs church story…. see link
Jeanne Assam and The New Life Church Shooting
Her story of the December 2007 stepping up as a citizen and thus to save numerous innocent unsuspecting folks is in total conflict and contradicts Perry’s formula to peace in any society. Dave, no, your idea is honorable but simply unrealistic.     

20 days ago
Reply to  Dean

Did you miss the part of the story that said that she ‘was working security’? In other words, dealing with this situation, however extreme, was her job.