Analysis

Police chief orders rare arrest of brutal officer in Aurora, CO, pleads for peace

On July 27, the Aurora Police Department led an uncharacteristic arrest of two of their officers, John Haubert and Francine Martinez, on charges related to a violent arrest they had carried out four days earlier. 

During the day on July 23, Haubert and Martinez responded to a trespassing call and encountered three young Latino men sitting on a curb in the parking lot of an Aurora office park. The officers asked them for their names, and they all complied. They found the men had warrants out in another county and moved to arrest them. It’s unclear from body camera footage whether the men knew why the officers were moving in on them. Two of the men sprinted away and the third, 29-year-old Kyle Vinson, remained seated.

Vinson was in the Aurora office park applying for jobs. He was resting with the other two men, who had helped him fill his bike tires. 

In body camera footage released to the public on July 29, Haubert quickly draws his gun on Vinson and shoves him to the ground. Haubert yells commands at Vinson, who puts his hands up and rolls over as commanded. Vinson is clearly confused, asking “Whoa, whoa what did I do? … Don’t shoot me man!”

Haubert presses the muzzle of his gun into the back of Vinson’s head, threatening to shoot him. Vinson asks why he’s being handcuffed, and Martinez tells him he has a warrant, and Vinson repeatedly tells the officers they’re wrong. Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson later acknowledged that Vinson appeared unaware of the warrant he had for a parole violation.

Haubert climbs on top of Vinson, digging his gun into his neck, then hits him 13 times in the head with the gun. Vinson, blood streaming down his head and covering his hands, cries out, “You’re killing me, you’re killing me.” Officer Haubert grabs him by the neck and begins choking him. Vinson struggles to breathe and begins to lose consciousness.

Haubert’s body camera drops off onto the ground and goes blurry while Vinson is heard crying and saying “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even run,” while Haubert yells “If you move I will shoot you.” At this point, Haubert’s body camera drops off onto the ground, but Martinez’s camera continues to roll.

Two additional officers then arrive on the scene and one, Officer Michael Dieck, tasers Vinson. 

Vinson had to be taken to the hospital and required stitches for some of the blows to his head.

Body camera footage captured Haubert talking to a sergeant after the arrest, saying, “I was going to shoot him but I didn’t know if I had a round in it or not.” To another officer he said, “I was wailing the shit out of him.”

Video clip of APD Chief Wilson addressing the public at a press conference, pleading for peace.

Chief Wilson makes arrests, pleads for peace

Six days after the violent incident, the Arapahoe County District Attorney issued warrants for the arrest of Haubert and Martinez. The two officers were allowed to turn themselves in and were released on bond the same day. Haubert was charged with attempted first-degree assault, second-degree assault and felony menacing. Martinez was charged with two misdemeanors for not intervening in Haubert’s use of force.

Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson held a press conference the same day, during which she released the body camera footage to the public, announced the arrests, and announced she would be opening an internal affairs investigation into the incident. 

She addressed the public, “I would ask the community, as angry as you are, I need peace in this city, please. … I need all of us to take a breath. The first part of justice has been served with the officers being arrested. I will do my part as the chief of police with the internal affairs investigation, but I need peace in this city.”

The cry for peace alludes to the mass uprising in Aurora during the summer of 2020 in response to the police murder of Elijah McClain. Three APD officers brutally tortured, choked, and murdered the 23-year-old Black man, then were allowed to walk totally free of consequences.

In the context of the nationwide uprising following George Floyd’s murder, mass demonstrations broke out in Aurora, Colorado calling for justice in McClain’s case. On June 27, 2020, some 5,000 people marched onto the I-225 highway, drawing national press coverage. The following weekend, hundreds of people participated in a peaceful sit-in surrounding an Aurora police station. Mass protests continued throughout the summer, raising the profile of McClain’s case. Under the pressure of the protests, the city of Aurora opened an independent investigation into McClain’s death, which returned in February of this year with damning results, revealing a thoroughly corrupted internal investigation process within APD.

Still, the Aurora Police Department refused to grant the core demand of the movement to fire and arrest Elijah’s killers. In September 2020, they instead led a crackdown on the leaders of the mass protests. Police led a coordinated arrest raid on multiple activists and held three of the lead organizers — Joel Northam, Eliza Lucero, and Lillian House of the Party for Socialism and Liberation — in jail for eight days without bond, charging them with dozens of ludicrous felony and misdemeanor charges all stemming from peaceful protests demanding justice for Elijah McClain. The most extreme charges were brought against Northam, Lucero, and House, ridiculously alleging attempted first-degree kidnapping of 18 police officers for holding the sit-in outside the Aurora Police station.

However, rather than quieting the movement, the prosecution of its lead organizers has only further exposed the corruption with the Aurora Police Department. Adams County Court Judge Leroy Kirby threw out the kidnapping charges in March, delivering a scathing ruling questioning the credibility of the cops who testified against the organizers. Following the ruling, district attorneys withdrew all felony charges against the organizers and the case has further unraveled since.

Newfound conscience within APD, or pressure from the people?

Brutality is nothing new for Aurora. What is new is the demonstrated power of the people to respond to injustices they will not tolerate. APD has been unable to extinguish this power through outright repression. In light of this new balance of forces, the Aurora Police Department has identified “restoring the trust of the community” as its “number one priority” and is publicizing a reform program that promises a multitude of changes that will bring about “a new way of policing” in Aurora.

APD recognizes that the July 23 brutalization and near-murder of another young man of color by one of their officers, if not handled radically differently from the McClain case, could once again ignite protests against the department. Chief Wilson’s decision to rapidly charge, arrest, and suspend the officers was a calculated decision to prevent more protest. She said as much herself: “Me expediting the case is for the public.”

All credit for the accountability we now see from APD is due to the people themselves. APD has not earned this community’s trust and we must remain vigilant and ready to mobilize. No promise from Chief Wilson will assure us that justice will be served for the criminal cop. We will continue to watch and take to the streets if needed. No justice, no peace!

Feature photo: Screenshot of Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson’s press conference after the arrest of two officers

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