A veteran who was fatally shot by police after killing a violent intruder in his home had "significant" hearing loss and may not have heard officer's commands to drop his gun, an Aurora police chief said Thursday.
Richard "Gary" Black, a 73-year-old Bronze Star recipient, was asleep in his Aurora, Colorado, home on Monday along with his wife, stepson and 11-year-old grandson when an intruder who had been at a party across the street kicked in the door, ripping it off the hinges, Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz said. The intruder, who police identified as 26-year-old Dajon Harper, dragged the grandson into the bathroom where he violently attacked the boy, Metz said.
Black and his stepson tried unsuccessfully to stop the attacker. Black then reportedly retrieved his gun and shot the intruder in the chest, killing him. At some point during the altercation, Black's wife called dispatchers from outside the home. Police who responded saw Black with a gun inside and opened fire, killing him.
"Mr. Black saved his family's life that night," Metz said at a press conference Thursday. "There is no doubt that he did everything he could to protect everything that was important to him and that was his family."
Metz said that body camera footage and the 911 call from Black's wife wouldn't be released. Dispatchers had trouble understanding the 911 call because of screaming and background noise, he said. An attorney for the Black family had previously said the intruder was naked and that the wife relayed that information to dispatchers, but Metz disputed that.
"It's an incredibly difficult tape to listen to, both emotionally, and it's also a difficult tape to listen to because of all the screaming going on," Metz said. "It was a very chaotic situation."
Metz read a statement from Black's family, in which the family thanked the police for allowing them to review the video and 911 audio, but requested they not be released publicly.
He described a chaotic scene shown on the video, saying officers had received a report that a boy was being drowned in a bathtub. He said the officers didn't have descriptions of Black or the assailant before finding Black armed with a gun.
Metz said the officers heard Black's wife say, "He has a gun" before encountering the Vietnam veteran holding a firearm and a flashlight. He said officers ordered Black to drop the gun and show his hands, but he didn't comply. Black was walking towards the officers and raising the flashlight, still holding the gun, when one opened fire, fatally wounding him.
The officers later found the intruder, Dajon Harper, dead in the bathroom. Metz said he had violently assaulted Black's grandson before being killed. Police said the intruder didn't know the family and it appears to have been a random assault. Dispatchers had received previous calls about the assailant damaging cars in the area and heard reports he may have been on drugs. Toxicology reports are pending.
Metz said it's not clear why Black didn't follow officer's commands to drop his gun, but Metz said it's possible he didn't hear the commands.
"Mr. Black had significant hearing impairment he received from his service in the military," Metz said "I don't know what he was able to hear or not hear."
Black, reportedly the recipient of a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, was a retired IRS agent who neighbors call a family man.
Metz said the officer who killed Black is also a military veteran and is "heartbroken" over the situation. In a statement read by Metz, the family said they acknowledged that the responding officers didn't receive a description of the attacker and that the 911 call from Black's wife was difficult to understand. They also called for threats on the officer who opened fire to stop, saying that Black greatly respected law enforcement.
"Any disrespect to law enforcement carried out in Mr. Black's name would be contrary to his wishes," the statement said.
Metz defended his officer's actions, saying they entered the home after shots had been fired, putting themselves in danger. He said the officers were "confronted by a very violent and complex situation" and said he "disputed strongly" that the officers acted recklessly.
"They acted how I would expect them to respond given the limited amount of information they were acting on and the fact that they were responding to shots fired inside the home, immediately putting themselves in harm's way to help save lives," Metz said.
The officer who fired the shot has been placed on administrative reassignment with pay, according to the Denver Post, and the 17th Judicial District Attorney's Office and Denver Police are investigating.
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