City of Aurora makes $2.6 million settlement with family of Naeschylus Vinzant, promises reforms

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Police lights on the 16th Street Mall. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Aurora will pay $2.6 million to the family of Naeschylus Vinzant, who was unarmed when he was fatally shot by an Aurora police officer in March 2015.

Aurora also has promised reforms of the police department as part of the settlement, according to city attorney Mike Hyman.

There was no lawsuit. Both parties sought an early settlement to avoid "an extremely lengthy, costly, stressful and divisive process," Hyman said in prepared remarks.

It is the largest settlement in the city's history, the Denver Post reports.

What happened?

Officer Paul Jerothe shot Vinzant, who was black, during an attempt to arrest him. Jerothe and other officers told investigators that they had just surrounded Vinzant following a pursuit, at which point they said Vinzant made a "jerking" motion and seemed to go for something in his pocket. Jerothe fired one shot from his service rifle into Vinzant's chest, killing him. Vinzant was found to be unarmed.

(In an email just before the shooting, Jerothe noted that Vinzant had said that he would have shot at police if he had a gun during a 2013 arrest.)

A grand jury declined to bring charges against Jerothe. The officer, who was commended for his actions during the theater massacre of 2012, was reassigned to administrative position. The department is working to determine his next assignment, according to police chief Nick Metz.

What's next for Aurora?

"This is a tragic event for everyone involved.  In other communities, such an event could have resulted in violence and a breakdown of police-community relations. Here in Aurora, it was noticeably different," Metz said, according to prepared remarks.

He outlined some of the reforms the department has undertaken. He said the city has developed a new system for reporting officers' use of force and instituted an internal "Force Review Board" to review those incidents.

Metz also said the department also made "significant reforms" to its Internal Affairs Bureau, which handles misbehavior and discipline for officers. Internal affairs was relocated away from police headquarters to create a more "neutral" environment, more staff were added, and the bureau was placed under a commander rather than a lower-ranked lieutenant.

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