AURORA, Colo. – The man who was pistol-whipped and choked by a now-former Aurora Police Department officer said Tuesday he believed he would be shot during the encounter that led to criminal charges for two of the officers involved.
Kyle Vinson sat in his attorney's office, back straight but eyes wet with what appeared to be tears.
"I don't want to re-watch the video," Vinson said.
Last week, body camera video released by the Aurora Police Department showed Officer John Haubert pistol-whipping and choking Vinson as he tried to arrest him on July 23 on South Parker Road following a report of trespassing.
"I thought I was gonna die two times when I had the gun to the back of my head," Vinson said. "And when I rolled over and before he hit me in the chest with the gun, I thought he was gonna shoot me there also."
Haubert faces felony and misdemeanor charges in the case, including assault with a deadly weapon and menacing. He resigned from the department on July 29 after joining in 2018. Denver7 was able to learn additional details about his hiring process. Officer Francine Martinez, who was also involved in the incident, faces misdemeanor charges for failing to intervene during the ordeal.
Vinson told Denver7 he is currently unhoused. On July 23, he said he was out looking for a job when he stopped at a Starbucks to get some water and sit in the shade outside.
“When I was leaving a Starbucks, the patrol car pulled up and said I was trespassing,” Vinson said Tuesday.
Aurora police were responding to a trespassing call when they encountered Vinson and two other men, all of whom had active warrants. Affidavits said the two other men ran when approached by officers, but Vinson did not.
"I sit there and then he (Officer Haubert) just approaches me and I'm like, 'What did I do?’” Vinson said. “…Then, next thing I know, he's got his hand around my neck and then I'm getting my face shoved into the rocks. And then I have a gun pressed up against my head, [them] saying if I move, ‘I'll shoot you,'" Vinson said.
Vinson said he was unaware he had an active arrest warrant for a probation violation. But according to police documents, he continued to comply with officer demands.
According to an affidavit for Haubert’s arrest, Haubert grabbed Vinson by the neck and throat and struck him with his gun several times as Vinson yelled repeatedly, “You’re killing me.”
"I complied to everything that they were saying. The officer said, 'Don't move,' then she said, 'Roll over.' By that time, I was getting hit in the back of the head. I didn't even realize how much blood there was until I saw some of the video. ... That's where I got my stitches out in the back," he said.
Police documents say Haubert had his hand around Vinson’s neck for nearly 40 seconds and that Vinson pleaded not to be hurt or shot. They also say he did not appear to be making any life-threatening actions toward either officer at the scene, nor did he seem to be armed.
A sergeant later asked Haubert whose blood was on his gun. He responded, according to video, “[A]ll that blood on him is from me f---ing pistol-whipping him.”
“All I know is that I’m lucky to still be here, because I thought I was gonna die two times when I had the gun to the back of my head,” Vinson said Tuesday.
Vinson, who says he identifies as African American, said he felt like Haubert used force against him because he was “stereotyped.”
“It’s just insane. Like, I just feel like people of color and the homeless, they just get treated differently,” Vinson added. “They just had this anger towards us, I guess, because they think that some people might be lazy, or they’re not trying. And when we’re out there trying hard … I think he just built this hate towards me that I don’t understand.”
Vinson is represented by Qusair Mohamedbhai of the Rathod Mohamedbhai law firm, who echoed his client's sentiments.
"Obviously this officer had a whole bunch of ideas about who Mr. Vinson was and was not. So yes, him experiencing homelessness and the color of his skin absolutely played a factor in how he was treated that day," said Mohamedbhai.
He added: "I think that there's absolutely space for law enforcement in our community. But is it fundamentally broken? Yes, I think the Aurora Police Department is probably the first one who's going to tell you this is fundamentally broken. We need to rebuild this from the ground. I mean, there was just a simple lack of humanity that Mr. Vinson faced. Until we have fundamental respects — of those who are experiencing homelessness, fundamental respect of communities of color — all the training in the world isn't going to change anything. There have been law changes already holding law enforcement officers criminally accountable for failure to intervene when their fellow officers engage in criminal excessive force, yet that didn't change a thing. So while we welcome better trained officers, while we welcome better educated officers, I think this idea that hey, we are going to engage in training and that's going to fix everything — I think the community is seeing that perhaps we need to do a little better than that."
Mohamedbhai and his firm have also represented the estate of Elijah McClain, Sheneen McClain, Richard Black and Naeschylus Carter.
On July 27, Aurora police held a news conference about the incident. Chief Vanessa Wilson apologized to the community and Vinson’s family and said the incident was “not acceptable” and “criminal.” The Department spoke to Denver7 about the bystander training they hope to roll out to all their officers by early 2022.
Denver7 reached out to the Aurora Police Department for further comment following Vinson's interview Tuesday, but the department declined to comment, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.
Vinson said Tuesday he hopes officers put themselves in other people's shoes before moving into an arrest incident. A GoFundMe has been set up to help Vinson secure permanent housing.
“Think about who’s watching and think about what if that was your kid or your brother instead of just jumping to conclusions because he’s [a person of color] or homeless or whatever,” he said. “…Just know, it’s real. And we should come together and try to figure out a way to stop it. Because people are dying. I’m lucky I’m still not crippled, you know, or memory loss or a concussion. I mean, there’s a lot that could have happened.”
A patterns and practice investigation into the Aurora Police Department by Attorney General Phil Weiser is ongoing.
"The investigation could not come at a better time," said Mohamedbhai. "And there could not be more reason for the Attorney General to step in and fundamentally take over the operations of the police department."