Crime

Inside Decision to Clear Cop Who Killed Hero Johnny Hurley in Olde Arvada Shooting

A portrait of the late Johnny Hurley.
A portrait of the late Johnny Hurley. Family photo
On June 21, a gunman later identified as Ronald Troyke mounted an attack in Olde Town Arvada during which he murdered Arvada Police Department Officer Gordon Beesley. Johnny Hurley, who just happened to be nearby when shots rang out, subsequently killed Troyke, only to be slain by another APD officer, Kraig Brownlow, which was confirmed days later when a video of the scene was made public.

In the months since then, Brownlow's legal fate has hung in the balance. But on November 8, Alexis King, the First Judicial District DA charged with investigating the case, announced that Brownlow will not face any criminal charges.

King's explanation for her decision is summarized in a decision letter that essentially uses a fog-of-war rationale for clearing Brownlow.

"Though the acts of John Hurley were nothing short of heroic, the facts must be viewed as they appeared to Officer Brownlow at the time and future developments are irrelevant to the legal analysis," King contends. "By law, in deciding whether Officer Brownlow was justified in acting in self-defense or defense of others, it does not matter whether John Hurley was actually trying to injure the officer or another person, so long as a reasonable person, under like conditions and circumstances, would believe that it appeared that deadly physical force was necessary to prevent imminent harm."
click to enlarge An aerial view of the shooting site, with the locations of key individuals labeled. - FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT DA'S OFFICE
An aerial view of the shooting site, with the locations of key individuals labeled.
According to King, she reached this conclusion after viewing more than 3,200 photographs; reading 1,180 pages of reports from assorted law enforcement agencies, including the Lakewood Police Department, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, the Wheat Ridge Police Department, the Golden Police Department and other local and federal agencies; reviewing witness statements; examining evidence from the scene and more.


The section of the letter labeled "Facts Established Through Investigation" reveals that on June 21, Brownlow, joined by two colleagues identified only as "Officers Hall and Boom," was working as part of the police department's Community Outreach Resource and Enforcement, or CORE, unit. Their mission was to serve as "liaisons between businesses and the community, as well as problem solvers around quality-of-life issues." Their office, an APD substation, was located in a small office building that faces west toward Olde Wadsworth, with an east entrance consisting of "a metal door with a window on the top half and a COVID protocol sign centered on the glass." The ground outside the door "slopes downward to the east and allows for visibility through the rear library parking lot all the way to Webster Street on the east side of the block," the letter points out.

The day started off slowly, and as a result, the officers spent their time catching up on paperwork. But they were also strapped. Each sported a handgun and a standard-duty tool belt; Brownlow's weapon is further described as a Glock 34 with a seventeen-round magazine and a bullet in the chamber.
click to enlarge Decision-letter captions for three images taken after June 21, from left: "East door with end of curved wall on left;" "East door with view of parking lot, Qwest building visible;" "East door window close-up." - FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT DA'S OFFICE
Decision-letter captions for three images taken after June 21, from left: "East door with end of curved wall on left;" "East door with view of parking lot, Qwest building visible;" "East door window close-up."
Then, just before 1:30 p.m., the trio heard "three loud bangs or booms," followed by "another series of bangs" that prompted them to look out the window of the east door. Boom quickly spotted "a man carrying an AR-15 black carbine-style rifle with a long magazine, dressed in black, wearing an old-style ski mask and a black, floppy hat" — Troyke. But Boom didn't immediately engage the suspect, the letter notes, since he was about forty yards away and feared that "if he fired and missed, the man with the AR-15 would start shooting at the east door and down the narrow hallway," endangering Hall and Brownlow, who had taken cover at his urging.

Boom subsequently radioed that Troyke, characterized as "the man in black," appeared to be about to enter a gray truck at the end of the nearby parking lot. But Troyke then started walking back toward the CORE office and the Olde Town Arvada square. Boom told Brownlow and Hall to keep an eye on the gunman while he ran to the west side of the building in the hope of being able to ambush him, the account continues. But the plan was short-circuited by the locked west door, which he was unable to use as an exit.

Meanwhile, Hall heard a third round of shots as Brownlow stood at the east door "with his weapon drawn and pointed at the window." At that point, he lost sight of Troyke, but soon spotted "a man with a red shirt" (Hurley) holding a handgun and a rifle, which he'd picked up. After Hurley paused in place, it looked to Brownlow that he "was either reloading the rifle or trying to fix something while holstering his pistol," the letter reports.


Brownlow, fearing a second gunman was working in conjunction with the man in black, responded by firing three rounds at Hurley, who was struck in the pelvis. The wound proved fatal.

Here's the video of the shooting released by the Arvada Police Department on June 25; it's preceded by comments from Arvada Police Chief Link Strate.
DA King begins the "analysis" section of the decision letter by noting that "Officer Brownlow had a unique and limited vantage point from which to make his decision to shoot John Hurley. In a span of less than three minutes, Brownlow learned the following: A man dressed in black stalked Olde Town Arvada, on a warm summer day when the square and surrounding businesses and services were busy with folks getting lunch, playing in the square, and visiting the library. Officer Brownlow observed the man in black carrying an AR-style rifle similar to those used by mass shooters. Critically, Brownlow reasonably believed that the man in
black was firing the weapon repeatedly, having heard at least three series of gunshots in or near the popular Olde Town square."

Shortly thereafter, King continues, Hurley came into view, carrying "a similar rifle as the man in black, as well as an additional handgun" — and he "looked intent on fixing or loading the rifle." Hurley's pause "gave an opportunity to law enforcement that the man in black had not — John Hurley was still, highly visible, with a wall of bricks behind him. If Officer Brownlow engaged before John Hurley had a chance to fix or reload his rifle or turn his attention on the lesser-armed Brownlow, Brownlow would fire towards a safe backdrop that would not jeopardize others."

In King's view, these factors serve as justification for Brownlow's choice to shoot, despite Hurley's "heroic actions that day."
click to enlarge Decision-letter captions for two images, from left: "Troyke's rifle seized from where Hurley fell;" "Digital scan of the view from where Brownlow fired on the day of the shooting." - FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT DA'S OFFICE
Decision-letter captions for two images, from left: "Troyke's rifle seized from where Hurley fell;" "Digital scan of the view from where Brownlow fired on the day of the shooting."
Around the same time that King was sharing her findings with the press, Kathleen Boleyn, Hurley's mother, released a statement: "I want to thank the community of Arvada and the nation as a whole for the outpouring of love that you have given to my daughter and me over these past difficult months. This support and love has allowed our family to persevere as we struggle to come to terms with Johnny’s final act of heroism. I also know that many others and the community share in our pain and I honor that grief."

Boleyn added: "I imagine that many people are angry and that is understandable. I would ask that instead of acting out on your anger, that you use that energy to be the change you wish to see in the world. Engage in meaningful conversations that might make a difference in how we all may move forward together. I pray none of us will have to face a situation such as Johnny did, but as we pull ourselves together to move forward in life, consider using Johnny’s commitment to doing the right thing even at the greatest cost to inspire your own actions."

The statement was issued under the auspices of Boleyn's attorneys, Siddhartha Rathod and Qusair Mohamedbhai of Denver-based Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC; to date, no lawsuit has been filed over Hurley's death.

Click to read the John Hurley shooting decision letter.
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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