AURORA, Colo. — A beleaguered Colorado police department is again under fire after body-worn cameras captured one of its officers pistol-whipping an unarmed Black man and holding a gun to the back of his head.
Aurora police Officer John Raymond Haubert, 39, is charged with multiple counts of assault, as well as menacing, official misconduct and official oppression. According to court records, all but the misconduct and oppression charges are felonies.
The victim, Kyle Maurice Vinson, 29, was struck more than a dozen times with Haubert’s handgun, according to the camera footage.
A fellow officer, identified as Officer Francine Martinez, is accused of failing to stop Haubert. Martinez, 40, is charged with failing to do her duty to intervene and her duty to report excessive use of force by an officer, police officials said.
The bill requiring police officers to intervene and report brutality by fellow officers was signed into law last June as police departments across the country faced criticism of how their officers treat people of color. The changes, and the nationwide protests that led to them, came about in the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
In Aurora, the face of the movement has been Elijah McClain, an unarmed Black man who was killed in police custody in August 2019. Officers who stopped McClain for “sketchy” behavior restrained him on the ground and used a dangerous chokehold on him even as he vomited and gasped for air.
Paramedics who responded to the scene then gave McClain, 23, an overdose of the powerful sedative ketamine. He went into cardiac arrest at the scene and was rushed to a hospital, where he died a few days later.
Both Colorado’s attorney general and the U.S. Department of Justice are conducting investigations into McClain’s death. A separate independent probe found in February that police and fire medics had no cause to detain or drug McClain, who was listening to music while walking home from a nearby convenience store.
The new state law also bans chokeholds, limits potentially lethal uses of force, abolishes qualified immunity for police officers and requires all officers to use body cameras by July 2023.
Haubert and Martinez turned themselves in, were booked and then released on bail, Aurora police Chief Vanessa Wilson said Tuesday at a news conference. Haubert, a three-year veteran of the department, is on unpaid leave.
Martinez, who has been with the department for six years, is on paid leave.
Maurice Vinson told CBS Denver he learned about his son’s injuries on the news. He criticized a system that he said allows the police officer accused of assaulting his son to be free on bond while his son is being held in jail for a probation violation.
“They almost killed him. They bond out of jail. They are out, and they won’t let my son bond out of jail,” he told the news station.
Denver County records show Kyle Vinson remained in jail Thursday afternoon.
Wilson, who was brought in as chief last year during the height of the city’s racial unrest, called Haubert’s behavior a “very despicable act.”
“What you’re going to see is going to anger you,” Wilson said as she prepared to show the footage. “It may even bring you to tears. I know as I watched it, I felt myself welling up with tears, as well as anger.”
Wilson, who is the first woman to be named chief on a permanent basis, warned that the incident would “shock the conscience” of viewers. After showing the 10-minute video to the reporters in the room, she apologized to Vinson and his family on behalf of every officer in her department.
“I can tell you we’re disgusted. We’re angry,” Wilson said. “This is not police work. We don’t train this. It’s not acceptable.”
Wilson said the officer’s actions were an “anomaly” in the department, which she said is striving to do better.
“This is not the Aurora Police Department,” Wilson said. “This was criminal.”
Editor’s note: The following story contains explicit language and disturbing footage and images of a violent police interaction.
‘You’re killing me!’
An arrest affidavit in the case states that Haubert and Martinez were dispatched shortly after 2 p.m. Friday to a trespassing call. There, they encountered Vinson and two other men sitting under a tree.
All three men had active warrants for their arrest. Court records obtained by The Associated Press indicate that Vinson had failed to meet with his probation officer and abandoned his court-ordered domestic violence counseling.
He also failed to submit to required urine tests.
When Martinez approached one of the other men and told him he was under arrest, both of the other men ran. Haubert rushed Vinson, who did not attempt to move from where he sat, and shoved him to the ground.
Bodycam footage shows that the arrest escalated quickly, with Haubert drawing his duty weapon from its holster within seconds of detaining Vinson. The officer begins to order Vinson onto his stomach.
“Whoa, what the hell did I do, dude?” a surprised Vinson asks, his hands up in front of him.
“Roll over on your stomach,” Haubert says, aiming his gun at the other man.
“OK, bro. Don’t shoot me,” Vinson says before rolling over onto his stomach.
Aurora police Detective Ethan Snow, who penned the affidavit, noted that Vinson had at that point shown no signs of resistance.
“Put your hands out in front of you,” Haubert says.
The officer then puts the gun to the back of Vinson’s head as Vinson nervously attempts to comply. In the video, the muzzle of the pistol is seen pressed into the flesh of the man’s head, which Haubert pushes into the rocks and gravel on which Vinson lies.
“Hands all the way out in front of you. Straight out in front of you,” Haubert repeats as he holds Vinson facedown in the gravel. “You have a gun pointed straight at your head.”
Haubert continues to press the weapon into Vinson’s head, even though he is compliant at that point, Snow wrote. Vinson questions why he is being handcuffed and tells the officers several times that he does not have any active warrants.
“We don’t believe he knew that he actually had an existing warrant,” Wilson said Tuesday.
Watch Chief Vanessa Wilson’s news conference below.
Martinez grabs Vinson’s hands and attempts to stretch them out so he can be handcuffed. At that point, Vinson, apparently still confused about why he’s being arrested, begins trying to pull away.
As Haubert’s voice gets angrier, Vinson starts screaming for help.
Haubert hits him for the first time.
“Get on your face,” Haubert yells, striking Vinson on the head with his gun.
Vinson begins to bleed, and welts pop up on his face as Haubert strikes him repeatedly, his words punctuated by blows to Vinson’s face and head.
Watch the body-worn camera footage of Kyle Vinson’s arrest below. Editor’s note: The footage contains disturbing images of a violent police interaction.
As the officers struggle with Vinson, the prone man shrugs away from the officers and gets on his left side. Haubert, who is straddling Vinson, presses the muzzle of his gun into the man’s neck.
The officers try to get Vinson back onto his stomach, but a panicking Vinson swats at Haubert’s gun. Haubert grabs Vinson’s neck and presses his thumb into the man’s throat.
The officer strikes Vinson several more times with his weapon, the impact of which can be heard in the footage.
“OK, OK, I’m trying,” Vinson says.
Haubert strikes him twice more on the back of the head.
“You’re killing me!” Vinson says over and over as he holds a bloodied hand in front of his face.
“On your face,” Haubert screams repeatedly as he continues to hit Vinson.
Vinson tells Haubert he can’t go to jail for something he didn’t do, but Haubert continues to order him onto his face. Martinez also tells Vinson to turn over.
A couple of minutes into the confrontation, Haubert grabs Vinson by the neck and forces him back to the ground.
“Officer Haubert pushed Mr. Vinson down so quickly that, within the same second, Officer Martinez’s body-worn camera recorded Mr. Vinson on his back with Officer Haubert’s hand around Mr. Vinson’s throat,” Snow wrote.
Haubert applies pressure to Vinson’s throat with his left hand as he presses his gun into the man’s midsection with his right. Snow observed in the affidavit that Vinson’s cries become “high-pitch squealing, suggesting his throat is being squeezed.”
“If you move, I will shoot you,” Haubert says multiple times as Vinson tries to remove the officer’s hand from his neck.
“Mr. Vinson was not striking, punching or kicking Officer Haubert,” the affidavit states. “It did not appear to your affiant that Mr. Vinson made any life-threatening actions towards Officer Haubert or Officer Martinez.”
“I didn’t even run,” Vinson says in a hoarse voice as he appears to drift into unconsciousness.
“Mr. Vinson began to cry while he was being strangled by Officer Haubert,” according to the court documents. “His voice was still labored and muffled.”
Haubert continues to tell Vinson to stop fighting, though Snow observed in his affidavit that Vinson does not appear to be fighting the officer at that point in the video.
Haubert gripped Vinson’s throat for almost 40 seconds, the detective wrote.
“Don’t shoot me please,” Vinson says. “Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me.”
“Grab my gun again, I will shoot you,” Haubert states.
Read the arrest affidavit for Officer John Haubert below.
Vinson continues to tell the officers he hasn’t done anything wrong and begs them not to hurt him. He gets his feet under him and struggles to stand up.
Haubert flips Vinson back onto the ground and again straddles him. Martinez appears to help her colleague throw Vinson down by grabbing the man’s shoulder and upper torso and pushing him down.
Haubert puts his weapon away as two additional officers arrive.
One of those officers, Officer Michael Dieck, then deployed his Taser on Vinson.
“Ow, ow, OK, OK,” Vinson utters in the video as he rolls over onto his stomach.
Snow observed in the affidavit that Vinson states over and over during the struggle that he could not breathe. The officers handcuff him and call for medical assistance.
Afterward, as a sergeant who responded to the scene questions the officers, Haubert again states that Vinson went for his gun.
“I was going to shoot him, but I didn’t know if I had a round in it or not,” the officer says.
The sergeant also asks Haubert whose blood is on his duty pistol.
“Should be his,” Haubert responds. “All that blood on him is from me (expletive) pistol-whippin’ him.”
On another officer’s bodycam footage, Haubert is seen telling the officer he’d been “wailing the (expletive) out of (Vinson).”
When Snow interviewed Vinson later at the jail, Vinson told the detective he was “beat up for no reason.”
“They didn’t even tell me I had a warrant, and they just attacked me because the other guys ran away, and then I’m getting beat up,” Vinson said, according to the affidavit.
Vinson’s right eye was swollen half-shut, Snow observed. He had bruises and cuts on his forehead and the back of his head.
His chest was bruised and he had a wound on the top of his head that required at least five stitches to close it.
“(I) did not observe bruising on Mr. Vinson’s neck, but it was difficult to discern if any existed due to Mr. Vinson’s neck being covered with black ink tattoos,” the detective wrote.
Detectives attempted to interview Haubert and Martinez about the incident, but they refused to speak without their lawyers.
‘They don’t feel safe’
Maurice Vinson described for CBS Denver what it was like to watch the video.
“When I seen that video, and I seen what was happening, I thought he was going to die. He was saying, ‘You’re killing me.’ I dropped my phone,” he said. “My wife, she was just …. I had to pick her up off the ground.”
Kyle Vinson’s attorneys, who also represent Elijah McClain’s family, said Wednesday that he faces “a long road” following the assault. Qusair Mohamedbhai told the Gazette in Colorado Springs that Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman has “stonewalled” efforts to root out police misconduct.
He accused the mayor of being part of the problem instead of the solution. Coffman has declined to comment on the ongoing case.
Mohamedbhai praised Wilson for taking such quick action in the department’s second major controversy in two years.
“She has taken impressive and decisive actions on a compressed timeline that I have never seen before to address this situation,” Mohamedbhai said.
Maurice Vinson said Wilson’s words, including the apology to his family, are not enough.
“I have seen so many cases, and I feel they do what they have to do to cover themselves,” he told CBS Denver.
Another of Vinson’s attorneys, Siddhartha Rathod, told the AP that he believes race played a role in the confrontation.
“Both our clients appear to have been treated with hatred and disdain, in part, because of the color of their skin,” Rathod said. “The time has come for a leader who will stand up for communities of color and stand against police violence.”
The Vinson case, like the McClain case before it, has community activists speaking up, as well. Several activists, along with current and former members of Aurora’s community police task force, gathered Wednesday to protest Vinson’s treatment.
Task force member Lindsay Minter, who works as a high school track coach, said the protest was about more than the most recent case, according to the AP.
“This isn’t about just Elijah or just about Kyle. This is about the community as a whole,” Minter said. “When I talk to the kids that I coach, they’re always like ‘If you come into Aurora, you leave on probation.’ Period. They don’t feel safe.”
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