DENVER — A Black teen fatally shot by an officer was armed with a pellet gun and not a semiautomatic handgun, police in suburban Denver revealed Friday.
Jor’Dell Richardson, 14, was shot June 2 after a struggle on the ground with officers who chased him from a store in Aurora, where he and a group of other teens were suspected of stealing vaping cartridges, according to authorities.
Police had originally said that the teen had a semiautomatic, but Chief Art Acevedo corrected that during a press conference held to release body camera video of the shooting.
The video does not clearly show what was happening right before the teen is shot. However, his words and the officers’ can be heard during the struggle.
Within a matter of a few seconds, an officer tackles Richardson, and the teen says, “Stop, please, you got me.”
“Gun, gun, let go of the ... gun,” an officer says, using an expletive. He then says he is going to fire, and a gunshot is heard.
“They made me do it,” a wounded Richardson says. “I didn’t know who they were. They made me do it.”
Later the officer who shot him, Roch Gruszeczka, is heard saying a prayer for him: “God, please be with that kid.”
Acevedo said that as part of their investigation, authorities are looking into where the pellet gun was when the officer fired and whether Richardson was pointing it at them.
He said that the weapon looked like an HK USP 9 mm handgun and that during the alleged robbery, Richardson had raised up his sweatshirt to reveal it in his waistband to the store’s clerk.
“That is not a toy. That is a weapon,” Acevedo said. He said he confirmed on Thursday that it was a pellet gun.
Richardson’s family and lawyers viewed the video with police Tuesday but were not told that it was a pellet gun until a few mintues before Friday’s news conference, attorney Siddhartha Rathod said.
Police would have known right away after picking it up and trying to unload it that it was not a handgun, he said, accusing officers of withholding the information to avoid angering the community.
Rathod said the video showed Richardson was surrendering and it did not make sense that he would have been reaching for a pellet gun.
“They didn’t tell the community because the entire city of Aurora would be here,” he said of a rally and march after the news conference that drew about 200 people.
Richardson’s mother, Laurie Littlejohn, told those gathered on the steps of city hall that the teen was the “light” of their home and she is afraid to have her 19-year-old son leave the house.
Police did not “think twice” about her son being a child and “didn’t give him a chance to redeem himself,” she said.
The rally ended with a prayer and prolonged sobbing by Richardson’s brother.
Police chased Richardson after a member of the city’s gang unit who happened to be driving by saw a group of teens in hoodies and medical masks approaching a convenience store. Some of them left in a stolen minivan afterward, while Richardson and another teen who was later arrested ran in different directions, police said.
Acevedo said police released the body camera video to the public Friday afternoon because it was the soonest they could do so under state law, which requires a wait of at least 72 hours after a video of a fatal incident is shown to family memers.