Crime

Claim: At Least 13 People of Color Abused by Aurora Cops Since 2003

Jaime Alberto Torres after being face-planted by an Aurora police officer.
Jaime Alberto Torres after being face-planted by an Aurora police officer. ACLU of Colorado
A suit filed against Aurora by the American Civil Liberties Union's Colorado branch on behalf of alleged law enforcement abuse victim Jaime Alberto Torres maintains that his brutalization, which left him with the injuries seen in the photo above, is one of at least thirteen such incidents involving officers with the city's police department and people of color since 2003.

And this total doesn't include the December 17 death of David Baker, a 32-year-old African-American, amid what representatives of the Aurora Police Department have characterized as an extremely violent domestic disturbance. Thus far, the Arapahoe County coroner has not determined what killed Baker, who was tased at least once during his interactions with officers before he was determined to be unresponsive.

Thus far, Aurora taxpayers have ponied up more than $4.6 million in settlements related to the thirteen other matters. And that total will grow should Torres prevail in what ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein describes as "another example of Aurora police officers mistreating a person of color."

Silverstein adds: "This kind of pattern undermines the trust police departments hope to create with communities of color. Incidents like this make people fear the police, not trust the police. And certainly, they don't trust police statements that they take seriously all claims of misconduct."


To back up this assertion, Silverstein references an ACLU graphic, on view below, that summarizes the aforementioned thirteen cases. "In almost all of them," he points out, "the Aurora Police Department did investigations and found no wrongdoing. And in the one or two cases where they did note some wrongdoing, that finding was overturned by the City of Aurora."

In June 2011, we wrote about the fatal shooting of Juan Contreras outside a Family Dollar Store. Police wrongly suspected Contreras of committing a minor crime; Aurora later paid a $400,000 settlement. Just shy of two years later, in February 2013, we reported on a $100,000 settlement made after cops responding to a call pertaining to Rickey Burrell broke his wrist even though he was already unconscious after suffering a seizure.

In November 2016, Aurora dispensed $2.6 million to settle the fatal shooting of Naeschylus Vinzant by Aurora police officer Paul Jerothe the previous year. The following July, Darsean Kelley, who Silverstein told us "was basically stopped for walking while black and then tased in the back while he was saying, 'I know my rights,'" took home a $110,000 settlement.

More recently, this past May, Aurora forked over $335,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against three members of the Aurora Police Department by OyZhana Williams regarding a 2015 run-in during which she had her head stomped in the parking lot of a hospital where her boyfriend was being treated for a gunshot wound, apparently because a cop lauded for heroism during the aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting didn't like the way she dropped her keys. And in the months that followed, Omar Hassan, whom officers ordered to leave a coffee shop for ordering a muffin while wearing a hoodie, and Dwight Crews, roughed up by APD members after he reacted to the prospect of his cat slipping out of the house, received settlements of $40,000 and $35,000, respectively.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts