Jury acquits former Aurora officer of violently assaulting man during arrest

Police Pistol Whipping Trial
FILE – In this screen grab taken from July 23, 2021, police body camera video provided by the Aurora Police Department, Officer John Haubert points a gun to the head of Kyle Vinson during an arrest in Aurora, Colo. Haubert is on trial over the violent arrest and opening statements are expected Tuesday, April 2, 2024. (Aurora Police Department via AP, File)

A jury found former Aurora police officer Jon Haubert not guilty of using excessive force when he pistol-whipped a Black man during an arrest three years ago.

Body camera video showed Haubert striking 29-year-old Kyle Vinson more than a dozen times with his weapon and attempting to strangle him while Vinson lay on the ground. Vinson told CPR News he thought he was going to die during the arrest.

In a statement, District Attorney John Kellner said he was disappointed in the verdict but respects the jury’s decision.

"We have a duty to investigate and prosecute cases we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. This verdict does not change our commitment to seeking justice for victims," said Kellner. 

Haubert and another officer stopped Vinson and two other men on July 23, 2021, after responding to a trespassing complaint at the parking lot of a shopping center. Initially the interaction was calm, with Haubert telling the men to take a seat on a curb in the shade and letting Vinson finish smoking his cigarette, according to body camera video.

Haubert’s defense blamed his partner on the scene, officer Francine Martinez, for escalating things by trying to arrest one of the men instead of waiting for backup. The two other men fled the scene, but Vinson, who was wanted for missing check-ins with his parole officer, stayed.

During the violent arrest that followed, body camera footage shows Haubert striking Vinson several times in the head with his weapon and with his hands as Vinson lay on the ground, and then putting his hand on Vinson’s neck. As blood spilled from Vinson’s face and head, he pled for the officer to stop, sobbing several times, “Don’t shoot me, bro,” and “You’re killing me!”

Vinson was taken to the hospital after the arrest, where he got six stitches for injuries to his head. Two weeks later, he told CPR that one injury to his chest was still hurting.

Kyle Vinson sits in the Rathod Mohamedbhai law office in Denver. Aug. 3, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Kyle Vinson sits in the Rathod Mohamedbhai law office in Denver. Aug. 3, 2021.

While questioning Vinson, defense lawyer Kristen Frost pointed out that he did not initially cooperate by getting on his stomach when Haubert ordered him to do so. Frost told jurors in her opening statements that Haubert, not knowing where the other men were or if they were armed, had to act quickly to make sure Vinson did not get away, and arrest him. 

Haubert denied trying to choke Vinson, claiming he put his hand on the man’s neck to restrain him but did not squeeze. He testified he was afraid Vinson was trying to grab his gun.

Martinez was earlier found guilty of failing to intervene to stop Haubert, a misdemeanor crime created by state lawmakers as part of a police reform law passed shortly after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. She was sentenced to six months of house arrest.

Haubert's acquittal follows the convictions last year of an Aurora police officer and two paramedics from the city’s fire department in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, who was put in a neck hold by police before being injected with the sedative ketamine by paramedics.