A Colorado police officer faces felony charges after he allegedly used a pistol to beat a man, choked him and threatened to kill him while attempting an arrest.
The incident happened Friday in the Denver suburb of Aurora, whose police department has been plagued by numerous police misconduct cases in recent years including the 2018 death of Elijah McClain Aurora police Chief Vanessa Wilson was expected to address the incident at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Aurora police Officer John Haubert is under investigation over possible attempted first-degree assault, second-degree assault and felony menacing in connection with the Friday incident, according to arrest warrant affidavits written by an Aurora police detective and obtained by The Denver Post.
Officer Francine Martinez faces charges over allegedly not intervening to try to stop Haubert’s purported use of force, the documents say. A new Colorado police accountability law requires law enforcement to intervene when they witness abuses of force.
Both officers have turned themselves in. It wasn't immediately known if they had attorneys.
Haubert and Martinez were dispatched Friday afternoon to investigate a trespassing report. The officers encountered three people who had outstanding felony warrants and tried to arrest them. Two ran way, the documents say.
Haubert drew his pistol and pointed it at the third suspect, who did not resist. Haubert allegedly grabbed the back of the man's neck, pressed his gun against the man’s head, then struck the man's head with his pistol at least seven times while ordering him to lie on his stomach, the documents say. Haubert allegedly choked the man until the man had trouble speaking. “If you move, I will shoot you,” Haubert told the man, according to the affidavit.
The man repeatedly said “You're killing me,” began to lose consciousness and started crying, the documents say.
The man was hospitalized after the arrest.
A still image taken from an officer’s body camera footage and included in the affidavit allegedly shows Haubert choking the man. On the footage, 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 state. Haubert also said blood on the man was from "pistol-whipping him.”
Aurora's troubled police department has been involved in several abuse-of-force incidents in recent years. The most egregious was the 2018 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after being confronted by police responding to a citizen’s call about a “suspicious” person in their neighborhood.
Colorado's Legislature passed a bill last year 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 2020 law also bars police from using deadly force against suspects they believe are armed unless there is an imminent threat of a weapon being used. It requires officers to intervene when seeing use of excessive force by colleagues and to report such cases to superiors.
Lawmakers strengthened that law this year to, in part, encourage more officers to use their body cameras and promote “de-escalation techniques” in police encounters.