During a startling news conference on August 2, Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz essentially argued that the actions of Richard "Gary" Black Jr., who had just gunned down a naked home intruder trying to kill his grandson, caused an officer to fatally shoot him.
Specifically, he said that Black failed to comply with at least five orders to drop his gun issued by officers over the course of thirteen seconds prior to the trigger being pulled. However, Metz acknowledged that Black, 73, might not have heard these demands because of a hearing impairment related to his service during the Vietnam War, which earned him a Bronze Star-Oak Leaf Cluster medal and a Purple Heart.
The entire news conference is on view below, with links to five 911 calls, radio traffic from early on July 30 and a previous video statement from the chief. But at one point, Metz said, "There was a reference that our officers acted recklessly. I would dispute that."
At this writing, lawyers for Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, the law firm that represents Black's estate, aren't commenting about Metz's remarks beyond a statement attributed to the Black family included below in its entirety. But prior to the news conference, attorney Siddhartha Rathod told Westword that Black's wife, Jeanette, had told officers during a 911 call and at the scene what her husband was wearing. Metz pushed back on this claim, too, saying, "In all of our reviews of the 911 tape, there was no description given."
Here's how Rathod described the incident in his previous Westword interview:
On Sunday night, July 29, he said, "there had been some sort of party going on in the neighborhood, and early on Monday morning, a naked man" — identified as 26-year-old Dajon Harper — "kicked in the door to the house" located at 10609 East Montview Boulevard.
At the time, just past 1 a.m. on July 30, occupants of the home included Black, his wife, one of his adult children and an eleven-year-old male grandchild who was sleeping on the couch. Seconds after gaining entry, Rathod explained, "the man grabbed the boy, dragged him into the bathroom and began choking and trying to drown him."
Black and his son "didn't know who this guy was," he continued. "They'd never seen him before. They rushed to the bathroom and started fighting him — but the man wouldn't stop. He kept attacking the boy and smashed a vase over Mr. Black's head."
At that point, Black "ran out of the bathroom and got his 9mm handgun" — a legal weapon with which he was very familiar since "he had been in the Army and worked as a federal agent," Rathod emphasized. "So he got his sidearm and went back into the bathroom. And as the man kept attacking his family, he shot him twice in the chest."
Harper, whom Aurora police are calling a known gang member, died from his injuries.
In the meantime, Rathod recounted, Jeanette had "run out of the house and called 911. She told them what her husband was wearing and said the attacker was naked. She was outside when the police arrived, and she told them again, 'My husband is wearing this.'"
Jeanette's interactions with police didn't prevent what happened next. Black had moved from the bathroom to the living room when he was shot and killed by an officer at the scene.
Only one officer fired, Metz said, squeezing off four shots after Black shined a flashlight in his face — and that thus-far-unnamed officer just happens to have been involved in a fatal shooting 34 days earlier, on June 27, along the 8900 block of East Colfax Avenue, near the Biltmore Motel. Metz revealed that the officer had been returned to active duty two weeks earlier, eighteen days after that shooting, once he'd passed a psychological evaluation and participated in a preliminary investigation.
The 18th Judicial District DA's office has not yet issued an opinion about the legality of the earlier shooting.
According to Metz, the officer who killed Black, a three-year veteran of the Aurora department who also served in the military, is heartbroken over what happened. But the chief also singled him out for praise, saying, "This officer ran into an incredibly dangerous situation. He put himself in harm’s way. He ran in when others were running out."
Here's the news conference video:
Metz's defense aside, the fact that no officer fired other than the man who'd been involved in another police shooting in late June recalls the case of Dion Damon, who was shot and killed by police near the Denver Art Museum in 2016. A lawsuit was filed against the officer in that incident in April, and its text underscores that he was the only one who fired. Moreover, that officer, Jeffrey Motz, had taken part in two previous fatal shootings, yet was only disciplined on a separate occasion when he didn't fire.
If the Aurora officer is cleared of wrongdoing in regard to Black's death, a suit could certainly follow. Note that Rathod was the attorney for four plaintiffs roughed up by police at the Denver Diner in 2009 and won a $360,000 settlement on their behalf. The firm also worked for the family of 2015 police shooting victim Jessica Hernandez; two years later, Denver officials paid her loved ones $999,900 and agreed to make policy changes intended to prevent such tragedies in the future.
Black is certainly a more sympathetic figure than either Damon, who was suspected of taking part in a bank robbery, or Hernandez, killed while in a stolen car. As Rathod pointed out in our previous post, "The key is that he was a hero. He should be sitting in the mayor's office getting a commendation, not in the Aurora morgue."
Then again, the family's statement suggests a reluctance to cast aspersions on the local police; their remarks include an effort to stop threats made against the officer. Black is also said to have had great respect for law enforcement, and his wife actually made blankets for members of the department.
We don't know yet if the news conference will change the family's opinion about the Aurora Police Department. But that Metz suggested Black may have been responsible for his own death is remarkable in and of itself.
Continue to read the Black family statement and links to the 911 calls and other supplementary material.
Statement by the Family of Richard "Gary" Black, Jr.
August 2, 2018
This morning, many members of the family of Richard "Gary" Black, Jr. met with Chief Nicholas Metz and other officials from the Aurora Police Department ("APD"). The family reviewed a body worn camera video recording and Mrs. Black's 911 audio recording. The family sincerely appreciated the opportunity to review these materials and recognized that there was no obligation for APD to share these materials at this time.
At this time, the family has requested that the APD not release these materials to the public. The family desires space to grieve and does not wish to have the final and violent moments of Gary's distinguished life to be his public legacy.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The early morning of July 30, 2018 was emotionally traumatic for all involved. The 911 telephone call by Mrs. Black was difficult to understand as large portions are unintelligible. The family acknowledges the APD's position that the responding officers did not receive a description of the intruders.
The family has learned that members of the APD have been receiving threats and subjected to other forms of harassment. This must stop. Mr. Black was a disabled US Army veteran who deeply appreciated law enforcement. Mrs. Black has personally quilted dozens of blankets for the Aurora Police Department. Any disrespect to law enforcement carried out in Mr. Black's name would be contrary to his wishes.
The investigation is in its early stages, and until it is complete, there will remain many more questions than answers.
Click to listen to Aurora Police Department radio traffic, as well as the first, second, third, fourth and fifth 911 call related to the officer-involved shooting at 10608 East Montview Boulevard and Chief Metz's pre-news conference video statement about the incident.