Aurora police chief pleads for calm after released video shows officer beating, choking unarmed man

Officer John Haubert, 39, is on unpaid administrative leave after violently detaining a man on July 23

By: - July 28, 2021 5:00 am

A screenshot taken of a body-camera video released publicly on July 27, 2021, showing Aurora police officer John Haubert choking an unarmed man after hitting him repeatedly on the head with his pistol.

An Aurora police officer is facing numerous felony assault charges after beating, choking and threatening a nonviolent, unarmed man accused of trespassing, according to court documents.

John Haubert, 39, has been placed on unpaid administrative leave after beating an unarmed man with his pistol. Haubert, who has been with the department since 2018, is being charged with three felony charges and two misdemeanors, as well as a mandatory sentencing enhancement charge. He was released from jail on a $50,000 bond on Monday, according to court records.

“I want to apologize from the bottom of my heart for every officer in the Aurora Police Department,” said Aurora police Chief Vanessa Wilson during a media briefing on Tuesday. “We’re disgusted, we’re angry. This is not police work, we don’t train for this. It’s not acceptable.”

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Aurora Officer Francine Martinez is on paid administrative leave and is also being charged with two misdemeanor offenses for failure to intervene and report use of force, according to Wilson. Martinez has been with the department for six years.

During the briefing, Wilson showed the recently released body-camera footage from the incident. 

“I believe the legislators that enacted House Bill 1250, they intended for this body worn camera to come out, and that’s why I’m doing it here today, because you have a right to know what happened,” she added.

House Bill 21-1250, which was signed into law this year, adds additional provisions to a historic police accountability law that passed last year as protests were raging across the nation in response to the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

The new law expands the circumstances in which officers must turn on their body cameras and opens up the Colorado State Patrol to more potential lawsuits over officer misconduct, in the same way last year’s bill added civil liability for local law enforcement agencies.

“I’m thankful that the other officer’s camera was running and we were able to capture a lot of what happened when the camera fell off,” Wilson said.

The event

Aurora police officers responded to a 911 call on July 23 around 1:30 p.m. to the parking lot of a local church. Lt. Chris Amsler, a spokesperson for Aurora police, said the 911 caller identified herself as the property manager, but it’s unclear if the caller was connected to the church. The call was for alleged trespassing.

When officers arrived, they found three men sitting in front of their bicycles, according to Wilson.

At the beginning of the body-camera video, Martinez is seen telling one individual that he’s under arrest before going “hands on with him,” according to Wilson. Two of the men then fled the scene, as shown on the body-camera footage. The video then shows Haubert hitting the victim on the head more than a dozen times with his pistol, as well as choking him and telling him he was going to kill him.

The victim, 29-year-old Kyle Vinson, can be heard pleading with the officers, telling them he couldn’t breath and yelling that they were going to kill him. He also kept repeating, “I don’t have a warrant, you have the wrong guy.”

“We don’t believe he knew that he actually had an existing warrant, it sounds like it may have come out of a probation violation or something,” Wilson said during the press conference.

An expedited internal affairs investigation was launched on Friday and is expected to conclude sometime next week, Wilson said.

“I hope that the transparency that we’re giving you here today, as well as a swift action by our police department, can make some of you believe that we are trying to do the right thing, we are trying to reform and we are trying to make a difference.”

The Critical Incident Response Team for the 17th and 18th Judicial Districts, which APD is a part of, was not called in for the case because it did not involve an officer shooting a civilian and because there was “no serious bodily injury” caused, according to Wilson.

Lt. Bob Wesner said during the media briefing that there were several large welts and a cut on Vinson’s head that required six stitches. “Nothing as far as concussion that we’re aware of,” he added.

After being violently detained by Aurora officers, Vinson was taken to receive medical treatment before being transferred to Denver’s downtown jail for an outstanding warrant. Vinson is scheduled to appear virtually in Denver District Court on Aug. 6, according to court documents. He did not receive any additional charges from Aurora police.

A plea for the community to remain calm

Wilson pleaded with the public during the media briefing to remain calm. 

“I will do my part as the chief of police with the internal affairs investigation, but I need peace in the city,” she said. “We will continue to take people out of this agency if that is how they’re going to police. It’s not right.”

“I believe we have fine officers, like I said, that are saving lives every day and that are de-escalating situations,” she added.

Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly, who also spoke at the briefing, commended the chief for her swift action. “In this case, as you’ve seen, the horrendous and appalling actions of the officers in this warrant that swift and decisive action,” he said. 

Multiple investigations are still underway related to the death of Elijah McClain, who was violently arrested by Aurora police in August 2019. 

The city of Aurora released a 157-page independent report in February detailing how Aurora police officers and paramedics mishandled the encounter that led to McClain’s death at every critical point — including detaining him in the first place. 

The independent investigators found that the initial investigation conducted by the police department was inadequate and upheld a false narrative from law enforcement, and the review highlighted far-reaching accountability issues within the Aurora Police Department. 

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser initiated a grand jury investigation into McClain’s death in January. The investigation is still underway.

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Moe Clark
Moe Clark

Moe Clark is a former Colorado Newsline reporter that covered criminal justice, housing and homelessness, and other social issues.

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