Three months later, no decision on Aurora officer’s fatal shooting of unarmed black man

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AURORA | Three months after an unarmed black man wanted on kidnapping and other charges was gunned down by an Aurora police officer, a special prosecutor has yet to announce their findings.

Police say Officer Paul Jerothe fatally shot 37-year-old Naeschylus Vinzant on March 6 as officers tried to arrest Vinzant in north Aurora. Vinzant, who was on parole and wanted on kidnapping and robbery charges, had removed his ankle monitor when police tried to arrest him.

Police said Vinzant was unarmed, but police have released few other details about the shooting. Protesters in the days after the shooting demanded answers but police and prosecutors have said little.

Naeschylus Vinzant's son Graylen Carter, 9, asks what lynch means during a protest March 11 at the corner of East Alameda Avenue and South Sable Boulevard. A crowd of more than 30 people gathered at an intersection near the Aurora Municipal Center on Wednesday to protest last weekís shooting death of an unarmed black man named Naeschylus Vinzant at the hands of police and demand details about the shooting. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)
Naeschylus Vinzant’s son Graylen Carter, 9, asks what lynch means during a protest March 11 at the corner of East Alameda Avenue and South Sable Boulevard. A crowd of more than 30 people gathered at an intersection near the Aurora Municipal Center on Wednesday to protest last weekís shooting death of an unarmed black man named Naeschylus Vinzant at the hands of police and demand details about the shooting. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

After the shooting, Arapahoe County prosecutors asked the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office to investigate the case, citing a conflict of interest with Jerothe.

A spokeswoman for the Jefferson County DA’s office did not immediately return a call for comment this week, but said last month that prosecutors were still investigating and did not have a timeline of when the investigation would be complete.

Shareef Aleem, a local activist who organized protests after Vinzant’s shooting, said he thought the investigation would be complete by now, especially considering the public outcry in the days after.

“I thought it would be wrapped up two months ago,” he said.

Aleem said if there is some specific reason for the delay, prosecutors need to explain that. 

But, experts say three months isn’t abnormal in a case like this.

Bob Grant was the district attorney in Adams County from 1992 to 2005 and said investigations into officer-involved shootings were always lengthy.

“Certainly 90 days is not unusual,” he said.

Police said Vinzant was unarmed, but police have released few other details about the shooting. Protesters in the days after the shooting demanded answers but police and prosecutors have said little.

One issue, Grant said, is that the “shoot teams” that look at these cases are made up of investigators from various agencies who are generally the “cream of the crop.” Those investigators have heavy case loads, so coordinating can be a challenge, he said.

“These kinds of things are required to be investigated to the fullest extent,” he said.

Grant said he never put a time frame on when an investigation would be complete and in the cases where he presented findings to a grand jury, he never announced that move during the investigation.

He said there can be added pressure in high-profile investigations, but prosecutors have to block that out and give each case the time it needs.

“If you are gonna do the job right, you can’t be influenced by the hounds barking at the door,” he said.

Locally, similar investigations in recent years have ranged anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

In Arapahoe County, prosecutors cleared Arapahoe County sheriff’s deputies last month involved in the shooting at a robbery suspect in just 17 days. In that case, Alex West, 25, was wounded by deputies but survived his injuries. West was shot May 5 and prosecutors sent a three-page letter to the sheriff clearing the deputies May 22.

Shareef Aleem, a local activist who organized protests after Vinzant’s shooting, said he thought the investigation would be complete by now, especially considering the public outcry in the days after.

“I thought it would be wrapped up two months ago,” he said.

Aleem said if there is some specific reason for the delay, prosecutors need to explain that. 

Last year, Arapahoe County prosecutors cleared Aurora officers in about six weeks after one fired a bullet into the floor of an apartment during a burglary investigation where they found an intruder inside a home when they arrived.

In Adams County last year, District Attorney Dave Young’s investigation into the fatal shooting of an armed man by Federal Heights police took more than three months. Young’s 16-page letter clearing the officer was sent May 11, 2014, more than three months after Pieree Davis was shot by police Jan. 26.

Police announced last month that Jerothe had returned to work in an administrative position and said in addition to the Jefferson County investigation, the department’s internal affairs section is investigating.