In a post about the death of Jessie Hernandez, seventeen, who was killed by cops while she was behind the wheel of a stolen car, we noted that it's been more than two decades since the Denver District Attorney's Office has prosecuted a police officer for a shooting that took place in the line of duty. The January 3 police wounding of Omari Cook-Nunn, who survived being grazed on the neck, won't end that streak: Denver DA Mitch Morrissey has deemed the incident justified. However, the decision letter released in the case (read it below) features some interesting details, including Cook-Nunn's claim that he'd been firing a gun not to threaten anyone, but to celebrate New Year's.
At first blush, Morrissey's office wouldn't seem to be the natural choice to evaluate the case. After all, Officer Jeffrey Olson, who shot Cook-Nunn, is a member of the Aurora Police Department, and the incident took place on Havana Street, a roadway commonly associated with Aurora. However, the decision letter points out that the shooting location -- Meridian Garden Apartments, 955 South Havana -- is actually in Denver, just to the west of the boundary that separates it from Arapahoe County.
Between 2:26 a.m. and 2:31 a.m. on the 3rd, according to the document, multiple 911 calls were placed about gunfire at the apartment complex, with one person estimating that as many as twenty shots had been squeezed off. Officer Olson subsequently drove to the scene, and after dismounting from his police cruiser, he reportedly noticed a man on the complex's second floor directing him toward a gathering of several people on a ground level walkway.
Among those present was Cook-Nunn, who's said to have then moved away from the group and out of Officer Olson's sight, after which another five or six shots sounded. Cook-Nunn then reappeared with a pistol in his hand.
Olson told investigators that he gave Cook-Nunn multiple orders to "show me your hands" and "drop the weapon" from a distance of around twenty feet away. In response, he's quoted as saying that Cook-Nunn "turned towards me and swung the gun kind of low, but outside of his body" -- at which point Olson shot, grazing Cook-Nunn's neck. He acknowledged trying to fire a second time, but his gun jammed.
The explanation given by Olson for deciding to shoot features the familiar jargon officers in such situations know to use: "I was scared for my life.... I was scared he was going to shoot me, and start firing at me." He added that Cook-Nunn's demeanor was "aggressive.... I mean, his body language just seemed like it was aggressive as far as his walk and his...the way he had swung towards me, just kind of arms out in an aggressive-type manner."
The gun Cook-Nunn had been holding, a .22 caliber, was found in snow near where he fell after being shot. He didn't lose consciousness, and en route to a nearby hospital for treatment, an officer overheard him declare, "This is bullshit! I shot my gun four times to celebrate the New Year and when I came around the corner, the officer shot me in the neck. Then I threw the gun down."
Nonetheless, the decision letter notes that Cook-Nunn turned down an opportunity to give a statement to investigators -- and Morrissey's office subsequently charged him with first-degree assault, felony menacing and possession of a weapon by a previous offender.
In the meantime, Morrissey writes that Officer Olsen "did believe that he was about to be fired upon by Mr. Cook-Nunn" and dubs this view "reasonable." As such, "criminal charges will not be filed against Officer Olson, because I find that his use of force was justified under Colorado law."
Here's a larger look at Cook-Nunn's booking photo, followed by the decision letter.
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