Law Enforcement

Friendly-Fire Deaths and Tragic Case of Olde Town Arvada Hero

Family photos via CBS4 Denver
(Left) Lakewood Police Agent James Davies, seen with his wife, Tamara, was killed by a fellow officer in 2012; (right) a portrait of the late Johnny Hurley.
In the wake of the June 21 attack on Olde Town Arvada that left three people dead, including Arvada Police Officer Gordon Beesley, word began to circulate that Johnny Hurley had been accidentally killed by Arvada police after gunning down the shooter, Ronald Troyke. Although no confirmation has come from Arvada authorities, and the Hurley family has released a statement requesting that speculation cease before the results of an investigation are completed (see it below), the Denver Post and every major television news station in the metro area are citing inside sources in their reports that Hurley, who's been hailed as both a Good Samaritan and a hero who prevented greater loss of life, was felled by friendly fire.

Fatal police shootings of the wrong individuals in an incident involving gunplay are hardly unknown. Examples in recent years include the 2018 deaths of Jemel Roberson in Illinois and Alabama's Emantic Bradford, though both had a racial component lacking in the Arvada case. And then there's the accidental 2012 shooting of Lakewood Police Agent James Davies by a fellow officer, a tragic mistake that eventually spurred a multimillion-dollar settlement.

Roberson, a 26-year-old Black man, died on November 11, 2018, at Manny's Blue Room Bar in Robbins, Illinois, where he was working as a security guard. A gunman had opened fire inside the venue, wounding four people. Roberson, who was armed, is said to have subdued the suspect when Midlothian Police Officer Ian Covey, responding to a call about shots fired, shot and killed the guard. Covey wasn't charged with a crime, but Roberson's mother subsequently filed a wrongful-death lawsuit.

On November 22, 2018, less than two weeks after Roberson's death, a comparable episode took place at the Riverchase Galleria mall in Hoover, Alabama. According to the New York Times, eighteen-year-old Brian Wilson was shot in the shopping center, allegedly by twenty-year-old Erron Martez Dequan Brown, who was later arrested. Bradford, a 21-year-old Black member of the U.S. Army, pulled his own gun after bullets began to fly, and a witness saw him warning fellow shoppers and helping them take cover. But a police officer on duty in the mall mistook him for the shooter and ended his life. That officer, David Alexander, was named the next year in the Bradford family's lawsuit over the killing.

A similar suit was filed by the family of James Davies, and both that document and a decision letter in the case detail the confusion that led to his passing.

On November 8, 2012, Davies and another Lakewood Police officer responded to a complaint about a loud party in the area of Ingalls and 20th Avenue. After the pair parked their car in the vicinity, they heard gunshots in an area south of them and headed that way, along with a slew of others from the department, prompted by numerous calls from concerned residents.

Officers fanned out in search of the shooter, and before long, a sergeant spotted a figure outside a house at 1940 Eaton, followed by a muzzle flash. Nearby officers sought cover; Davies and the officer with him were a few buildings away and communicated their position via radio. Meanwhile, a SWAT negotiator phoned the house in question, and after a couple of tries, a woman answered the phone. She insisted that no one there had fired a gun, adding that two people were with her. The negotiator then ordered the trio outside, and as a Denver Police helicopter swooped overhead, they complied and were taken into custody. None of them had a weapon, but ammo was found inside the home.

As Davies and the other officer circled to the back of the house, agents questioned the three people who'd left and learned that several pit bulls were inside. More personnel were called to help clear the dogs — including Agent Devaney Braley, a SWAT officer team leader. Dealing with the dogs took some time, and as agents tackled that task, another complication cropped up — the arrival of a man named Joe Ruiz, who was allegedly drunk. He yelled at the agents in front of the house, challenging their authority to be in his home.

In the midst of this confusion, Braley, now inside the house, was told the backyard hadn't been cleared yet. He was at the back door when he thought he heard voices. Braley told investigators that he looked into the backyard and saw an east-to-west privacy fence that separated the residence from the apartment building directly to the north — and on top of it, he caught a glimpse of what he thought was a Hispanic man with a shaved head holding a black semi-automatic pistol.

Braley yelled, "Police, drop the gun. Drop the gun," but the man didn't do so. Instead, Braley said, the man started to raise the weapon in his direction. Believing he was about to be shot, the agent fired first, striking the man in the head.

The person Braley shot turned out to be Agent James Davies, and while his actions were subsequently deemed reasonable, Lakewood eventually settled the family's lawsuit in 2016 by agreeing to a payment of $3.5 million.

If Hurley died from friendly fire, the City of Arvada could be facing a potentially expensive dilemma of its own.

Click to read the Devaney Braley decision letter and Davies v. City of Lakewood, and continue to see the statement from the Hurley family, released at just shy of 4 p.m. on Friday, June 25, under the auspices of Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King.
Statement from the family of John Michael Hurley:

Our beloved son and brother Johnny is no more. We loved him dearly. May he rest in peace. Before Johnny engaged in a clear-eyed response to a dire situation, he was already a wonderful human being with a great enthusiasm for life. Johnny had an inquiring mind, independent spirit, and strong principles, though he was beholden to no single cause or belief. He called out injustice when he saw it. He brought joy to many people and looked for the good in others. Moving forward without Johnny feels impossible. We are so proud of him.

We are deeply moved by the outpouring of love from the community and are grateful for the support of the Arvada Police Department and their partners. We don’t yet have all of the information about what happened to Johnny, and we look forward to learning the outcome of a thorough and independent investigation.

As a family, we ask that there not be speculation in the media while the facts are being determined. It helps no one. We ask that our privacy be respected while our grief is still so fresh. We ask that any media inquiries be directed to the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
This post has been updated to include the above statement from the Hurley family.