AURORA, Colo. – A Colorado police officer has been arrested after video showed him using his pistol to beat a man he was trying to take into custody, choking him and threatening to kill him, while another officer was accused of failing to stop her colleague as required by a new police accountability law passed during racial injustice protests last year.
Body camera footage was released Tuesday of the arrest in the Denver suburb of Aurora, whose Police Department has been plagued by allegations of misconduct in recent years, including the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was put into a neckhold.
In the latest confrontation, which came as the officers responded to a trespassing report Friday, the man repeatedly said, “You’re killing me, bro" as Aurora Officer John Haubert held him down and struck him, the video showed.
“If you move, I will shoot you,” Haubert said. The officer says repeatedly, “Stop fighting,” as the man cries and gasps for air.
Video shows Haubert yelling at him to roll over on his stomach and show his hands, which he does.
“I need water,” the man cried as the video ends.
The Associated Press is not naming the man. He did not suffer serious injury but was taken to a hospital for welts and a cut on his head that required six stitches, police said. Authorities didn't say if he will face charges for an outstanding warrant on a probation violation. It is not clear what race or ethnicity he identifies as, but he appears in the video to be a person of color.
Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson called the arrest a “very despicable act” at a press conference Tuesday.
“We’re disgusted. We’re angry,” said Wilson, who took over the department last year. “This is not police work. We don’t train this.”
Haubert is under investigation on suspicion of attempted first-degree assault, second-degree assault and felony menacing, according to arrest warrant affidavits.
His lawyer, Reid Elkus, said he could not comment because it's early in the case but added, “We will be zealously defending Officer Haubert.”
Officer Francine Martinez is accused of not intervening to try to stop Haubert, the documents say. It wasn’t immediately known if she had an attorney to speak on her behalf.
Both officers have turned themselves in.
Aurora's troubled Police Department has been involved in several excessive use-of-force allegations in recent years. The most egregious was the death of McClain, who was confronted on the street by police responding to a call about a “suspicious” person.
In August 2020, Wilson became the first woman to permanently lead the department in Colorado’s third-largest city, a diverse community east of Denver. At the time, the agency was looking to regain public trust following a tumultuous year since the death of McClain, whom officers put into a neckhold. Paramedics also injected him with ketamine.
In the latest case, Wilson said she moved quickly to put the officers on leave and release the body camera footage to shed light on an incident she said is an “anomaly” in a department trying to do better. She apologized to the man in the video.
“This is not the Aurora Police Department,” Wilson said. “This was criminal.”
Haubert and Martinez had been sent to investigate a trespassing report when they encountered three people who had outstanding felony warrants and tried to arrest them, according to documents. Two ran way and have not been arrested, Wilson said.
The video shows Haubert draw his pistol and point it at the third person, who did not resist.
“We don’t believe he knew that he actually had an existing warrant,” Wilson said.
Court documents filed for the warrant show he failed to submit some urine tests, abandoned treatment for court-ordered domestic violence counseling and did not report to four scheduled probation meetings.
Haubert is accused of grabbing the back of the man’s neck, pressing a gun against his head, then striking his head with the pistol at least seven times while ordering him to lie on his stomach, the documents say.
The video shows the man bleeding from his head with a large golf-ball sized lump on his temple as he struggles on the ground and cries for help.
In the video, Haubert told a sergeant after the arrest: “I was going to shoot him but I didn’t know if I had a round in it or not,” the documents say. Haubert also said blood on the man was from “pistol-whipping him.”
Last year, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill that, among other things, requires all officers to use body cameras by July 2023, bans chokeholds, limits potentially lethal uses of force and removes qualified immunity from police, potentially exposing officers to lawsuits for their actions in use-of-force cases.
The law also requires officers to intervene when seeing colleagues use excessive force and report it to superiors.
Lawmakers strengthened the law this year to encourage more officers to use their body cameras and promote “deescalation techniques” in police encounters.
Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert contributed to this report. Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.
This story has been updated to correct that Elijah McClain died in 2019, not 2018.