Two Denver cops cleared in fatal January shooting near I-225 in Aurora

The incident was investigated by Aurora police and the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
4 min. read
A still from an officer-worn camera of the January 6, 2020, shooting of Nico Alexander Descheenie in Aurora.

A Denver police officer who fatally shot an armed man in January and another officer who attempted to shoot the man were both cleared of criminal wrongdoing after an investigation by the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office ruled their actions were justified, the DA's office announced on Tuesday.

The district attorney's office ruled Denver police officer Joseph Heckenkamp was justified in shooting Nico Alexander Descheenie, 25, on Jan. 6 in Aurora, according to the decision letter from Chief Deputy District Attorney Jason Siers. Sergeant Timothy Hyatt attempted to shoot at Descheenie, but the DA's letter said his gun malfunctioned.

The incident started after Denver police responded to a stolen Chevrolet Avalanche spotted at 6th Avenue and Federal Boulevard in Denver at about 5 p.m.

Denver police used a GPS dart called "Starchase" to follow the car from a safe distance. They followed the car for about an hour around the metro area, eventually crossing into Aurora.

According to the DA's letter, Descheenie, who was identified as the car's driver, left the car behind a storage business and fled on foot. Heckenkamp then gave chase, following Descheenie to the eastbound lanes of East Iliff Avenue and I-225. Heckenkamp was joined by Hyatt and Denver police officers Chris Parton and Fernando Benavides in attempting to arrest Descheenie.

Descheenie disobeyed officers' orders and pulled out a handgun, according to the letter, and pointed it at his own head. Heckenkamp told Descheenie to drop his weapon, telling him "don't do it."

Descheenie then backed away from the officers, crossing into the median toward westbound traffic lanes, where the DA's letter said he unsuccessfully tried to carjack a woman's car by pointing the handgun at her and motioning her to get out.

He then turned back toward cops and pointed the gun at Heckenkamp and Hyatt, who responded by trying to shoot Descheenie, but his gun had a mechanical malfunction and didn't fire, according to the DA's letter.

Heckenkamp's gun had no such issue. He fired fourteen rounds, striking Descheenie five times, according to the DA's letter.

After shooting Descheenie, officers approached him and provided medical aid until medical personnel arrived. Descheenie died from his injuries at the Medical Center of Aurora.

Denver's medical examiner found Descheenie, who was identified as an American Indian man, was shot five times, including two penetrating and three through-and-through wounds. The examiner's office said Descheenie's cause of death was due to multiple gunshot wounds and the manner of death was homicide. The autopsy revealed Descheenie had alcohol, amphetamine and methamphetamine in his system.

Police said a handgun belonging to Descheenie was seized at the scene. Police also said a backpack he was carrying had ammunition and drugs. A duffel bag police said Descheenie dropped while running from Heckenkamp contained a shotgun, ammunition for the shotgun, screwdivers and two cell phones.

The shooting was investigated by Aurora police. Siers' office found, based on the investigation, Heckenkamp and Hyatt "reasonably feared that Nico Descheenie posed an imminent threat of danger or serious bodily injury to them" and others, adding both officers had the legal right to defend themselves by using deadly physical force.

Siers' letter is dated June 24. Vikki Migoya, a spokesperson for the 18th Judicial District Attorney's office, said the letter was released this week because one of the officers involved "was away at the end of the month."

"As a courtesy to DPD, we waited until he was back and had been apprised of the letter's contents before making it public," Migoya said in an email.

Denver police have been involved in five fatal shootings this year. Denver police corporal Ethan Antonson was cleared in the fatal shooting of William DeBose last month. DeBose's case prompted demonstrations in Denver as protesters continued to march and rally against racism and police violence.

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