Two Colorado police officers involved in the shooting death of 14-year-old Jor’Dell Richardson earlier this year will not face criminal charges, the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced on Wednesday.
Jor’Dell was shot and killed on 1 June in Aurora following a convenience store robbery when the responding officers James Snapp and Roch Gruszeczka believed he was armed with a 9mm pistol.
It was determined that the teen was instead carrying a pellet-gun replica of a pistol and his death sparked protests in the city.
Now, an investigative report has found that the officers’ belief that it was a real gun was reasonable at the time, and body camera video shows the gun “clearly visible” in his hands, according to the decision letter released by DA John Kellner.
“The evidence shows that Officer Snapp was legally justified in using physical force during this incident, and that Officer Gruszeczka was legally justified in using deadly physical force,” the letter read.
The Aurora Police officers responded to the June robbery at a liquor store near East Eighth Avenue and North Dayton Street where an officer had called for backup after seeing a group of teens wearing medical masks and looking suspicious.
Additional officers arrived as one of the teens, later identified to be Jor’Dell, fled the store after robbing it of several vape pens and led police on a foot chase that was caught on body cam video.
It was later revealed that it was Jor’Dell who had threatened the store clerk with the gun during the robbery. Investigators found that the people inside the store believed the gun was real, according to the report.
The chase ended a short time later when Jor’Dell was tackled to the ground and Officer Gruszeczka could be heard on the body cam video yelling at the teen to let go of the gun.
The officer also yelled that he would shoot him as the teen can be heard on the body cam video pleading, “Stop please, you got me.”
A single round was fired and struck Jor’Dell’s abdomen. He later died from his injuries.
According to the decision letter that provided a summary of the report, Officer Gruszeczka did not report hearing Jor’Dell make any attempt to surrender and that the teen continued to struggle with him for the gun.
There is bodycam footage of the struggle, but it does not show Jor’Dell reaching for the gun. However, surveillance video from a nearby bar and grill shows the teen moving his right hand toward his waist after he was tackled by police.
The teen was inially believed to have a semi-automatic weapon, but the DA wrote in the letter that investigators knew “nearly immediately” after the shooting that he was carrying a pellet gun.
For eight days, Jor’Dell’s family and the community believed he had been carrying a real gun as told by Aurora Police Interim Chief Art Acevedo.
It was confirmed on 8 June that he had actually been carrying a pellet gun. This implemented a new information-sharing process for future critical incidents.
The gun had "no markings, coloration, or alterations that would indicate upon visual inspection that this was a simulated or replica handgun, as opposed to an actual handgun capable of firing bullets,” according to the letter.
It was concluded that Officer Gruszeczka’s belief that Jor’Dell was armed with a deadly weapon was “objectively reasonable.”
Mr Kellner said Officer Gruszeczka “possessed an objectively reasonable belief that the individual (Jor’Dell) was capable of inflicting serious bodily injury or death on either Officer Snapp or Officer Gruszeczka at the time of the OIS (officer-involved shooting), and concludes that the use of deadly physical force was not a criminal action.”
Officer Gruszeczka, who has been with the department since 2017 and served on the gang unit since 2019, was placed on paid administrative leave but has since been returned to full duty.
Aurora Police Chief Art Acevedo released a statement following the news and called the DA’s decision “fair and just.”
“Regardless of this finding, the death of a young man is a tragedy for his family and extended community, and it will continue to weigh heavily on members of our department,” he said.
“We continue to offer our deepest sympathies to Jor’Dell Richardson’s family and friends. Consistent with my previous statements, our officers had to make split-second decisions based upon the information available to them and their own observations. I believe the 18th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) made a fair and just decision today following a comprehensive analysis of all the facts over the last three months. Regardless of this finding, the death of a young man is a tragedy for his family and extended community, and it will continue to weigh heavily on members of our department.”
"In addition to the aforementioned CIRT investigation, the department is in the final stages of a separate internal investigation to determine what, if any, policy violations occurred related to this incident and will share our findings as soon as the process is complete.”
"It’s my hope that our community will come closer together and direct our collective energy toward comprehensive, meaningful and lasting solutions to empower our youth. It is in this spirit that I called for a summit to address the many challenges facing today’s youth ranging from high frequency of violence to lack of quality educational and economic opportunities. This effort will not succeed unless we secure commitments from a wide range of community, business, and government leaders."