AURORA | Aurora interim Police Chief Art Acevedo on Monday blamed communication lapses in his department for the fact that it took more than a week to correct past statements that Jor’Dell Richardson had a handgun when he was shot by officers earlier this month.
On June 1, the 14-year-old was running from a police officer after allegedly taking part in a convenience store robbery when he was tackled by Officer James Snapp. A struggle between Richardson and officers Snapp and Roch Gruszeczka ensued, during which Gruszeczka shot Richardson once in the stomach. Richardson died soon after.
Acevedo announced at a news conference the day of the shooting that Richardson had a “semiautomatic firearm pistol,” referring to the item as a firearm or gun no fewer than four times. Community activists Candice Bailey and Tim Hernandez said the chief reiterated at a meeting early last week with Aurora residents that Richardson had a gun.
However, on Friday, Acevedo told the media that the weapon was actually a pellet gun that only resembled a firearm, saying he had “confirmed” that fact only the day before. The press conference lasted more than 90 minutes, but for many it generated more questions than answers — particularly why it took the department eight days to disclose that Jor’Dell had a pellet gun and not a firearm.
While activists accused Acevedo of lying to deflect criticism from officers, the chief said after Monday’s Aurora City Council meeting that he first learned of the discrepancy Thursday when he asked department staffers for information about the gun that he could share with the public.
Acevedo said he would have had “nothing to gain” by intentionally misleading the public. When asked who told him that the item was a gun, Acevedo said, “I looked at it,” and also that he had not handled or touched it.
“Everybody’s looking at it. Everybody thinks it’s a firearm. What did it look like to you when you looked at it?,” he asked. “I didn’t get an update, and my assumption was that that was accurate. … I still need to find out who booked it into evidence, how it was booked into evidence and why I wasn’t updated sooner. Had I not asked for that update, I would still be in the dark on it.”
Siddhartha Rathod, a lawyer representing Richardson’s family, said he didn’t understand Acevedo’s comments over the past few days.
“Are we saying when APD officers shoot a 14-year-old boy, the chief of police isn’t briefed?” he asked. “I understand there’s a CIRT team investigation, and rightfully so…then he should be going out to the public saying I’m not briefed, I don’t know what happened. That’s not what he said.”
Rathod questioned why Acevedo had been making definitive public statements about the shooting if he wasn’t fully up to date on the investigation.
“Isn’t it irresponsible of him to be issuing a statement? None of this makes sense,” he said.
At Friday’s press conference, Acevedo said that he makes a point to personally respond to the scene of officer-involved shootings, noting that “you can rely on a report, you can rely on your own eyes, and I like to rely on both.”
He said he wanted to review the process of how information is shared within the department. The Sentinel asked the Aurora Police Department to provide a timeline of how the information was relayed before the chief reportedly made his request Thursday and were told police would “not be releasing any reports or documents until the three open investigations are completed.”
Before Acevedo spoke with the Sentinel on Monday, the Aurora Police Department offered an unclear answer why it would take the police chief a week to determine the kind of weapon Richardson had.
“The 18th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team is the primary investigative agency into the shooting,” spokeswoman Faith Goodrich wrote in an email Monday afternoon.
“Additionally, the officers, at the time the information was confirmed to the Chief, had not been interviewed. To respect the open investigation by CIRT, and to not taint any interviews that had not yet occurred, that information was withheld until Friday’s press conference.”
Acevedo said he was still getting accustomed to Aurora’s arrangement with the CIRT team and that the situation was complicated by the multiple ongoing investigations into the incident, including the robbery case and concurrent internal affairs and CIRT probes.
The CIRT team is responsible for conducting all outside investigations of lethal officer use-of-force incidents for APD, though crime-scene evidence is the responsibility of the law enforcement agency being investigated, the district attorney’s office confirmed Monday for the Sentinel.
“There is no such thing as a storage locker or an evidence lab in our DA’s office,” 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office spokesman Eric Ross said.
As of Monday afternoon, Ross said that the CIRT team had yet to be presented with any of the evidence.
The chief also said representatives of the Richardson family who called the pellet gun “a toy” and who criticized officers’ decision to shoot the 14-year-old were trying to “rile up” the community.
“It is not a toy,” Acevedo said of the pellet gun carried by Richardson. “It looks just like what? An exact replica.”
At Friday’s press conference Acevedo emphasized how similar Richardson’s pellet gun looked to a real pistol, displaying a photo of the two side-by-side.
Acevedo mentioned Friday and Monday how pellet guns have caused serious injuries and deaths, though they are not classified as firearms by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He also struck back at his critics, saying they were trying to sow discord in the community.
“I made a report based on what I knew, and no one had advised me otherwise,” Acevedo said Monday. “I know that we want to find a boogeyman behind everything and try to build mistrust, but that’s not the way I roll.”