Aurora’s right-wing celebrity police chief spins narrative justifying 14-year-old Jor’Dell Richardson’s killing
At a press conference in Aurora, Colo., demonstrators hold aloft a portrait of 14-year-old Jor'Dell Richardson, shot and killed by local police. | Lucas Evans / People's World

AURORA, Colo.—Hundreds gathered in front of police headquarters here Friday, June 8, to march in support of the family of Jor’Dell Richardson, a 14-year-old boy shot and killed by Aurora police on June 1.

Prior to the march, which shut down the streets of downtown, Richardson’s family held a press conference, addressing the APD’s use of deadly force and alleged mishandling of the investigation. In attendance were around 200 community members, leaders, activists, and politicians, including Colorado State Reps. Elisabeth Epps and Javier Mabrey, as well as Aurora West teacher and activist Tim Hernandez. Also on hand were students and teachers from Denver’s East High School who recently faced a spate of shootings in and around their school which left two students dead in two separate incidents.

It had been over a week since Richardson, who had only just graduated from the 8th grade, was shot in the abdomen at point-blank range by Officer Roch Gruszeczka in an alleyway, suspected of allegedly stealing vape cartridges from a store. Since the release of the bodycam footage of the killing, the family and community have demanded justice.

They also want transparency in the wake of what they see as the city’s mishandling of the investigation, citing the withholding of information, deliberately delaying the family’s press conference, and spinning a false narrative that Richardson deserved to die.

Jor’Dell Richardson’s family talk with the media. | Link O’Brennan / People’s World

“My life is forever ruined,” said Laurie Littlejohn, Richardson’s grieving mother, as she addressed the crowd Friday. “The fact that the police didn’t think twice that he was a child.” She also said she has a 19-year-old son and is scared for him to leave the house.

“My son did not deserve this. Right is right, and wrong is wrong,” Littlejohn said.

State Rep. Epps also spoke, addressing the seeming impossibility of police reform and how police killings cannot be trained or legislated out of existence. The recently elected abolitionist also insisted passionately that “our work is incomplete if we aren’t doing the things to interrupt being back here.”

Family challenges police narrative

“There is still a lot of evidence to gather,” said Aurora Police Chief Arturo Acevedo at a meeting with family and the community days earlier, before the release of the footage. Acevedo, the recently-appointed interim chief of the APD reportedly has a history of mishandling investigations and a slew of other accusations against him.

In his remarks, he rationalized Gruszeczka’s actions. “When there’s a firearm involved…more often than not officers will turn to firearms,” he claimed.

However, despite the spinning of a narrative that Richardson was in possession of a “semiautomatic” firearm when he was killed, Acevedo eventually revealed late Friday (mere minutes before the family’s press conference) that boy was in fact not in possession of a firearm when he was shot. Rather, he had a toy pellet gun.

“How would you respond if someone pointed that at you?” asked Acevedo during the APD’s press conference Friday, gesturing to side-by-side images of a real pistol and a toy pellet gun, implying Richardson had pointed the toy gun or threatened the officers with it, despite no evidence of that.

As family attorney Siddhartha Rathod put it at the press conference, “They didn’t have the decency to tell the family he didn’t have a gun,” a fact deliberately withheld for over a week. When Acevedo revealed this vital piece of information to the public late Friday, he performed rhetorical cartwheels to justify the killing, and, in the words of Rathod, “stood in there and exonerated” the officers, both of whom are white, while “prosecuting Jor’Dell.”

Rathod continued, “They told you they don’t have all the facts, they haven’t seen all the evidence. But they have already exonerated their officers and convicted Jor’Dell. That is not justice, that is not fair.”

Bodycam footage reveals that while Officer James Snapp tackled Richardson in an alleyway, pinning the teen to the ground on his back, Gruszeczka fired the fatal shot from point-blank range into Richardson’s abdomen after he can clearly be heard surrendering to the officers, crying out, “I’m done…stop please…no…you got me…you got me.”

President Donald Trump with then-Houston Police Chief Acevedo. | Susan Walsh / AP

Although one of the officers can be heard yelling, “Let go of the fucking gun!” APD has yet to produce evidence that Richardson was reaching for the toy, his arms appearing to have been pinned down by officer Snapp when he was fatally shot by Gruszeczka.

According to Rathod, “Nowhere on that video do you see Jor’Dell with a gun. Nowhere on that video do you see Jor’Dell fighting with the officers. Nowhere in that video do you see Jor’Dell threatening those cops. But what do you see? What do you hear? Jor’Dell surrenders prior to being shot.”

Rathod asked, “Does it make sense that he’s grabbing for a gun when he’s surrendering?” There were also questions raised about whether Richardson would have reached for a toy gun after surrendering while, as the footage shows, Snapp was pointing a gun at the teen’s head while on top of him.

Rathod said Acevedo was out “spin a narrative” in front of the public “that Jor’Dell deserved to die.”

Acevedo omitted Richardson’s words of surrender when presenting the APD’s timeline of the incident, although he made sure to insist that because the incident unfolded “in real time,” his officers did not have the benefit of frame-by-frame analysis when Gruszeczka decided to shoot and kill Richardson. The explanation seemed to rationalize the officers’ use of excessive and ultimately deadly force.

Acevedo also commended the officers on administering CPR to Richardson before paramedics arrived, despite the fact that the video footage reveals them handcuffing the boy while he struggles to breathe. “I think we’re alright with the cuffs,” one of the officers can be heard saying, possibly revealing doubt among Snapp and Gruszeczka about whether they should have handcuffed the dying Richardson. That they only handcuffed one of his wrists could punctuate the officers’ doubts that they acted appropriately.

“Whatever the situation was, my son did not have to get murdered,” insisted Littlejohn on Friday. As Rathod eloquently put it, Our Black and brown children have to have the ability to make mistakes. And have the same opportunities to surrender and not be shot…and Jor’Dell was denied that right.”

Right-wing police chief under scrutiny

At the community meeting prior to the release of the footage, after one community member pressed Acevedo on the tangible steps he would take to prevent this from happening again, the chief made statements that many in the audience found bizarre.

He mused about how “the human condition, whether it’s the police or a member of the community, is an imperfect condition.” Acevedo then stammered, going on for several minutes:

“I’m not going to bullshit you… I’ll piss off the cops sometimes, sometimes the community’s gonna get angry, but there is no training that is going to guarantee that tragedies don’t happen… it’s just [sic] of the fact that we are human beings and we are not the most wonderful creatures on earth, and as a matter of fact, I think some of the worst creatures are human beings… I’m not sure we belong… [or that we] deserve to have the earth. We kill for sport.”

The police chief’s abstract philosophizing raised more questions about the mishandling of the investigation, as well as his deliberate crafting of the public narrative. According to Jor’Dell Richardson’s father, Jamico Richardson, who also spoke passionately at the Friday press conference, the chief told him and his son’s grandmother that their child “did not suffer.”

This obscenity was especially disturbing when considered alongside the footage, which clearly shows a terrified, mortally wounded child gasping for air, telling Snapp and Gruszeczka “I can’t breathe!” As Richardson’s father, fighting against this distortion, plainly put it, “Our son died in a dirty alley, scared. How dare you.” Jor’Dell Richardson’s mother was quoted as saying, “You put the ‘suffer’ in suffering.”

Jor’Dell’s father also addressed Acevedo personally, saying, “You don’t deserve that badge. You don’t deserve to be called chief. You’re a coward.”

Acevedo has a history of making similarly insensitive and disturbing comments in public forums. In 2014, during his tenure as chief of the Austin Police Department, Acevedo was forced to apologize for comments he made regarding the arrest of a woman for jaywalking: “In other cities, there are cops who are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas.” Incidentally, Acevedo was accused of sexual harassment in 2004 while he worked for the California Highway Patrol.

Acevedo’s stock phrases and disturbing platitudes highlight his secondary career as a media personality, a role he has embraced for some time now. Acevedo claims it is important for police to get out ahead of the media narrative, something he says he learned during the Los Angeles uprisings following the brutal beating of Rodney King at the hands of the LAPD in 1992.

“Information travels very quickly,” Acevedo told a journalist in 2013. “I realized that if you don’t get ahead of that information flow and you don’t participate in that information flow, somebody else is going to put out that information.”

Acevedo with InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. | InfoWars

Acevedo rose to the national stage following the murder of George Floyd, three years ago, when he gave milquetoast comments about police reform and was accused of “grandstanding” and “moralistic posturing” in front of the media.

Since then, Acevedo has served as an analyst for CNN and has also appeared on The View to discuss why he does not support defunding the police and his backing for no-knock raids—a subject he knows all too well. In 2019, while chief of the Houston Police Department, Acevedo refused to release an audit of the Narcotics Division following a no-knock raid that led to the deaths of two falsely accused individuals. The audit, suppressed by Acevedo, revealed widespread problems with the division.

Acevedo was once characterized as the “Tom Brady and Michael Jordan of police chiefs when he served a short, controversial stint as Chief of the Miami Police, which resulted in his being fired. The characterization of the former is perhaps more true than the latter, given both Acevedo and Brady have taken photo-ops with the recently federally-indicted former president, Donald J. Trump.

Acevedo has also appeared in photos and made media appearances with other indicted luminaries of the U.S. far-fight, including Gabriel Garcia of the Proud Boys and the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, on whose show, InfoWars, Acevedo made regular appearances for years.

When asked about his ties to Jones in late 2022, Acevedo responded that he “always said some chiefs run away from activists, I run towards them.” Besides identifying Jones as an “activist,” Acevedo is also adept at consistently running into the arms of extremist figures like Trump, Garcia, and Jones.

“I YouTube you on a regular basis” he once told Jones during a live guest appearance on InfoWars. Acevedo also asserted that he agrees with some of Jones’ philosophy. In another appearance, Acevedo lamented Jones not having followed through on his offer to shoot .50 caliber weapons with him at his personal ranch.

Acevedo put his posturing skills in front of the media into practice in the Jor’Dell Richardson case, spinning a narrative that his officers were fully justified in killing the teenager, despite his open admission that he has yet to see all of the evidence in the case.

A police department with a racist history

This is not the first time the APD has been accused of racially-motivated malfeasance. In 2019, the department profiled a 23-year-old Black man Elijah McClain as “sketchy” for wearing a mask. APD unjustifiably subdued McClain and placed him twice in a carotid chokehold while he was handcuffed before paramedics arrived and injected him with ketamine against his will, leading to his death.

Three of the officers and two of the paramedics involved in the incident were arrested and charged; they’re currently awaiting trial. Three officers were later fired and another resigned after it was revealed that they took photos at a memorial set up for McClain where they reenacted the chokehold.

It is not insignificant that in January 2023, a little over a month into his tenure, Acevedo re-hired the officer who threatened to have his police dog bite McClain during the incident. Acevedo also approved the promotion of one Aurora officer who was found drunk and passed out in his squad car while on duty. The interim chief claimed he was legally bound to do so.

The murder of Jor’Dell Richardson also brings back painful memories of the slaying of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy killed by Cleveland Police in 2014 for allegedly reaching for a toy pellet gun. It was determined that Rice was not reaching for the toy but rather had his hands in his pockets when he was shot dead.

Students and other community members demand justice for Jor’Dell Richardson. | Link O’Brennan / People’s World

This problem, as is well known, is not a local phenomenon, but an epidemic such that following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a scathing review of the scale of racially-inspired human rights violations at the hands of the police in the United States.

The coalition rising up against Acevedo and the APD’s malfeasance continues to struggle for justice for Jor’Dell Richardson, while further calls for transparency and for Acevedo’s resignation mount. According to the attorney Rathod, there is possible footage from a surveillance camera in the alley overlooking the location where the teenager was killed. That footage, if it exists, has yet to turn up.

On Sunday, the family announced they will be holding a funeral procession for Jor’Dell Richardson and marching his casket to the Aurora Municipal Center. That event is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday, June 16.

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Anthony Ballas
Anthony Ballas

Anthony Ballas teaches composition and rhetoric at the University of Colorado at Denver and philosophy and social sciences at Northern New Mexico College. He has published numerous articles, reviews, and book chapters in fields ranging from music, literature, film, and architecture, to COVID-19, international politics, and the Haitian Revolution. He is currently editing a volume with Dr. Gerald Horne. He is the host of the De Facto Podcast.