It’s been more than a year since George Floyd was murdered by a cop and Enlightenment Protests across the country forced America to take another uncomfortable look at its systemic racism. Unfortunately, not much has changed in that time. Once again, we must be “horrified,” “shocked,” and “saddened” by yet another “peace officer” using their weapons and their power to brutalize members of the community they swore to protect.
On Friday, July 23rd, 2020, Colorado was reminded of the structural racism and pattern of abuse so frequently exerted by our police system. Officer John Haubert, an individual entrusted with the extensive powers offered to our American police, will be charged with attempted first-degree assault, strangulation, felony menacing, official suppression, and first-degree official misconduct. The officer who stood by, let it happen and chose not to report the incident, Francine Martinez, will also be charged.
Responding to a trespass call, Officers Haubert and Martinez approached three individuals in a park. Two of the individuals left the scene, leaving ethnic minority Kyle Vinson behind. Vinson was ordered to the ground by the Officers without prior questioning, and Vinson’s interrogatories as to why he was being arrested were unanswered. In saddening and shocking police footage released on Tuesday, Officer Haubert is seen grabbing Vinson by the neck from behind and holding the muzzle of his firearm to the back of his head. A confused and scared Vinson understandably attempts to free himself from an unlawful and unjustified police hold, and in the struggle that ensues, Vinson is pistol-whipped from behind until his head is bleeding and then is strangled into submission by Officer Haubert. Officer Martinez fails to intervene during the altercation, and the use of force was not reported for review by either officer to their superiors. In a statement made by Officer Wilson post-release of the body cam footage, Wilson contended that “This is not police work. This is not police work. We don’t train this; this is not acceptable.”
Unfortunately, the reality is that Colorado is being confronted with is the normalization of brutality as “police work.” In August 2019, the same police department was responsible for the death of Elijah McClain, who became a national figure during the attention brought to police brutality in the 2020 Black Lives Matter Movement. In light of a 2020 internal investigation into the death of McClain, Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly stated that “city management [would] work with the Mayor and City Council in the coming days and weeks to ensure the appropriate steps are taken.” It is clear that almost two years after the death of McClain, the appropriate steps have not been taken.
The frightening similarities between the murder of McClain and the assault of Vinson demonstrate that the Colorado police system remains fundamentally broken. Both McClain and Vinson were approached by police and were physically accosted before the police explained to them why they were being detained. Both McClain and Vinson were victims of excessive force used by police to arrest otherwise peaceful subjects. Both McClain and Vinson sustained life-threatening injuries because of excessive force. No officers, in either case, stepped in to prevent excess force, and in both cases, the “observing” officers even failed to report the excessive force to their superior officers. It is only by virtue of luck that Vinson survived his attackers when McClain did not.
When different officers in the same department exhibit similar patterns of abuse, the issue isn’t a few morally compromised police officers or “bad apples,” as those who would whitewash this scourge like to say. There is a sickness in the Aurora Police Department. Racism is a symptom of this sickness, and so is the culture that praises “The Thin Blue Line” aggression and exclusion.
Until our institutions are fixed with meaningful police reform, it’s critical that you understand how to deal with police.
Here’s a recent blog post on how to interact with police to protect your rights and safety: 7 Tips For Dealing With The Cops.
Krizman Law will continue to take a stand every day to fight against the injustices of our policing and justice symptoms. To find out more, call us at 303.529.2677.
Mr. Krizman is a criminal defense attorney in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in providing relentless defense for domestic violence, DUI, and drug crimes. He is a former public defender who has also worked for a district attorney and is licensed in the State of Colorado, and the United States Federal Court, District of Colorado. Mr. Krizman is a member of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, Colorado Bar Association, Denver Bar Association, and Arapahoe County Bar Association. A Colorado native, he has a law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and a bachelor’s degree in Government and World Affairs from the University of Tampa. Call him today at 720.819.7317.