The Aurora police officer who killed Richard Gary Black on July 30 moments after he'd saved his grandson from an attack by a crazed home invader has been cleared of wrongdoing by 17th Judicial District DA Dave Young. This determination is shocking to Siddhartha Rathod, the attorney who represents the Black family.
Rathod says it's too soon to determine if a wrongful-death lawsuit might be filed in the case, since "the family is still grieving, still mourning, still trying to process this information." But in his view, the shooting should never have taken place.
"Mr. Black is an American hero who died as a hero," Rathod stresses about the late military veteran. "He died saving his family, and right now, he should be playing with his grandkids on the zip line he built in his back yard."
The word Rathod uses to describe the way Black died? "Outrageous," in part because Officer Drew Limbaugh, the Aurora Police Department member who fired the fatal shot, had slain another man, Joey Bronson, just 33 days earlier. And while Limbaugh's actions in that incident were later deemed to have been justified, too, the matter was still under investigation when he responded to a call at the Black home.
DA Young's decision letter is accessible below, as is the document related to the Bronson gun-down. There are multiple accounts of what happened in the former, with the version shared by Chad Hayashi, Black's stepson, who lived at the residence, offering the most insight into how the actions of the intruder, Dajon Harper, led to tragedy.
Warning: The details may disturb some readers.
On the 30th, Hayashi told an investigator, his two children — a daughter, referred to as C.H., and a son, dubbed K.H. — were also staying at the Black family home. Everyone had gone to bed at around 11 p.m., with Hayashi sharing a room with C.H. and K.H. bedding down on the living room couch while Black and his wife, Jeanette, retired to their bedroom.
Some time later, Hayashi awoke to find a woman and man in the living room and the front door broken down. "My son is on drugs and has your baby," the woman said.
At that point, Hayashi looked toward the bathroom, which Black was trying to enter — and inside, he saw a completely naked Harper holding K.H. in a choke hold in the bathtub, which contained enough water to render both slick to the touch. K.H. was also naked, and Harper is said to have been behind him, "chewing" on his left ear.
Hayashi responded by grabbing Harper's neck and jamming his thumb into his eye socket. But while this temporarily made Harper release K.H., he immediately grabbed the boy again. Meanwhile, Black was pulling on Harper's leg and a man Hayashi took to be a friend of the attacker was stomping on him.
After hand-to-hand combat that went on for a minute or two, Harper was finally pushed out of the tub, where Hayashi stayed to safeguard his son. But shortly thereafter, Harper struck Black in the head with a vase. In response, Black fired a gun he had in his possession (the weapon was entirely legal), striking Harper in the midsection. Harper immediately slumped to the floor.
Seconds later, Black walked out of the bathroom, and Hayashi heard three gunshots — and only afterward did he recall anyone saying, "Police!"
His memory is correct, as is proven by footage from the body camera affixed to Officer Limbaugh that's been released by the Aurora Police Department. The portion made public shows Limbaugh outside the house when he sees what turned out to be Black holding his weapon. "Drop the gun!" Limbaugh shouts. "I said hands! Drop the gun! Hands!" And then he shoots.
These actions take place just past the clip's three-minute mark. See the video here.
Black was mortally wounded at that point, but as Rathod points out, "one of the officers asked, 'Is anyone else in the house?' And Mr. Black says, 'My son and grandson are in the bathroom, and the perpetrator's on the floor.' So he had the control, with his dying breath, to take steps to protect his son and grandson."
The report also offers another poignant comment. When K.H., who was being led through the living room wrapped in a towel, saw Black, he said, "That's my grandpa. He saved me."
True enough. "Even the Aurora Police Department says that Mr. Black was a hero," Rathod emphasizes. "He was a four-time recipient of the Bronze Star. Now, I was a captain in the United States Marine Corps, and I've asked around, and I can't find a single other person who's received four separate Bronze Stars. So he was trained in the use of firearms, and without the one he had that night, Mr. Black's family wouldn't be with us today."
As for Limbaugh, the decision letter states that ten seconds elapsed between the announcement that he'd seen a gun and the shooting itself. "During that time, the officers give multiple commands to drop the gun," DA Young writes. "It appears that Mr. Black perceived the officers at the front door, as he looks in their direction and even tries to conceal himself from view. Mr. Black then fully emerges from the hallway and appears to turn toward the front door while still holding the handgun."
Young acknowledges that "perhaps Mr. Black did not know that it was police standing at his front door. Perhaps Mr. Black did not hear the police commands to drop the weapon. Either way, there is no evidence to contradict Officer Limbaugh's reasonable belief that Mr. Black presented a threat to the officers because he did not drop the weapon and could shoot at any moment." Hence, he finds that "the evidence does not support the filing of any criminal charges against Officer Limbaugh for the shooting death of Mr. Richard 'Gary' Black."
In Rathod's view, the fact that Young was the person charged with reaching this conclusion is dubious in and of itself. "This should have been brought to a jury or, at minimum, a grand jury," he argues. "And all of the facts used in the district attorney's statement favor the officer. For example, they mention that the intruder [Harper] had drugs in his system, but they don't mention that Mr. Black had nothing in his system. They list a long criminal history for the individual who broke into the house, but they don't list that Mr. Black had no criminal history."
Even more problematic from Rathod's perspective is that "the district attorney states Mr. Black ignored commands from the officers without stating that the officers never announced themselves. The officers never tell Mr. Black they're the police, even though there had been other intruders in the house. And Mr. Black never pointed his gun at police. He never raised his gun and he was never a threat."
Neither did he drop the weapon. But "assuming he could hear the officers from outside the house, a reasonable person wouldn't drop their firearm when they knew a naked man had just broken into his home and attempted to drown his grandson," Rathod argues.
The standard in such situations isn't "that the police can come and snipe you from outside the house," he goes on. "But the officer only gave Mr. Black a few seconds before killing him. He was outside the house, behind a wall, so we don't know if Mr. Black could hear them. We do know Mr. Black didn't point his firearm at him, and we know the officer was in a covered position, so he was never in danger. But he shot him anyway."
Did Limbaugh shoot rather than wait because he was still dealing with the fallout from killing Bronson on June 27? Rathod sees this question as significant.
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"We are not in a war, and police officers are not military personnel," he says. "Police officers are there to protect and serve — and basic steps need to be taken to allow officers time to recover from prior shootings. Officers shouldn't feel like they have to be Rambo and go right back out there. If the officer had been given the opportunity to recover at home and then gone back to work in a desk-duty capacity, or on the day shift instead of being put right back on nights, Mr. Black would still be alive. We should be protecting police officers so they can better protect us — and when we put an officer who's been involved in a shooting right back on the street, heroes like Mr. Black are wrongfully killed."
The Black family "has always been supportive of law enforcement, and particularly the Aurora Police Department," Rathod notes. "Mrs. Black made quilts that officers would keep in the back of their patrol vehicles so they could put them around victims of crimes, and she had multiple family members who are police officers — and even family members who worked at the Aurora Police Department. This is an American family of traditional values and of heroic character, and they lived that lifestyle. They walked the walk."
Still, Rathod doesn't see what happened as being worse because of these factors. "This shouldn't happen to anyone," he maintains. "An officer does not get to go to someone's house, stand outside in the dark and shoot inside at a man who never points a weapon at him, and without telling him that he's with the police. It just shouldn't happen."