Aurora officer who killed Kilyn Lewis used Taser during 2021 excessive force incident

Police Pistol Whipping Trial
Aurora Police Department via AP
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.

Updated at 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, July 11, 2024

By Max Levy/The Sentinel

Three years before the fatal shooting of Kilyn Lewis, Aurora police Officer Michael Dieck used a Taser on a suspect during a 2021 incident that resulted in charges being filed against another officer who beat the same suspect with a gun as well as a third officer who failed to intervene.

The Sentinel on July 3 received a confidential tip about Dieck’s involvement in the July 23, 2021, arrest of Kyle Vinson by officers John Haubert and Francine Martinez. Vinson and two other men were sitting in a parking lot at the time they were confronted by Haubert and Martinez, who were responding to a trespassing call.

After learning that the three men had outstanding warrants, Martinez tried placing one of the men with Vinson in handcuffs. The man pulled away from Martinez, and he and the other man with Vinson fled on foot. Haubert then pushed Vinson, who had remained seated, backward onto the ground.

Despite the fact that Vinson did not run or attack officers, Haubert repeatedly struck Vinson in the head and face with his pistol. He held Vinson down by the throat as the 29-year-old cried and pleaded for Haubert to stop, repeatedly telling Haubert, “Don’t shoot me,” and, “You’re killing me.”

Arrest affidavits describe and footage captured by the body-worn cameras of Haubert and Martinez show Dieck arriving on the scene as backup while Haubert and Martinez continue to restrain Vinson. By this point, Vinson’s face is bruised and covered with blood, and he yells for help as Dieck approaches.

Haubert and Martinez roll Vinson onto his side, and Dieck shoots Vinson in the leg with a Taser. Vinson screams, and Dieck warns Vinson that, if Vinson doesn’t extend his hands, he is “going to get it again.”

Vinson was ultimately arrested for a domestic violence warrant — at the hospital, he was treated for the head wounds inflicted by Haubert and received multiple stitches.

Then-police chief Vanessa Wilson condemned the treatment of Vinson during a press conference shortly after the incident, saying she was “disgusted” and that the actions of the officers involved were “not police work.”

Martinez was subsequently charged with and found guilty of failure to intervene in the use of excessive force, the first conviction of its kind in Colorado. Haubert was charged with assault, felony menacing and other crimes but acquitted at trial in April.

While the arrest affidavits for Haubert and Martinez mention Dieck’s involvement in the arrest of Vinson, Dieck was not criminally charged, and police department spokesman Joe Moylan wrote in an email July 9 that Dieck’s use of a Taser during the 2021 incident was evaluated by APD’s Force Investigations Unit and found to have been “objectively reasonable.”

On May 23, 2024, Dieck shot and killed Kilyn Lewis, who was unarmed and had raised his hands, one of which held a cellphone, after reaching into his pocket. Lewis was wanted for attempted first-degree murder, and a team of several police officers had confronted him in the parking lot of an Aurora condominium complex to try to take him into custody.

Lewis’ death has been described by his family as the latest example of Aurora police unnecessarily killing and injuring people of color — like Vinson, Lewis was Black.

Protesters, including those who disrupted the Aurora City Council’s June 24 meeting, have also demanded that Dieck be fired from the Aurora Police Department and criminally charged.

Dieck remains on leave while he is investigated by the department’s Internal Investigations Bureau as well as the third-party 18th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team, which may recommend criminal charges for Dieck if it finds that charges are appropriate.

According to interim police chief Heather Morris, who narrated parts of a compilation of bodycam footage from the shooting of Lewis that APD released last month, Dieck has spent 12 years on the force, including eight years on the department’s SWAT team. Morris did not mention Dieck’s involvement in the arrest of Vinson.

Moylan wrote that, prior to the killing of Kilyn Lewis, Dieck had taken part in two other officer-involved shootings — one non-fatal, the other fatal.

The first occurred in April 2018 and sent a man to the hospital who police said was wanted for attempted first-degree murder and fired a gun inside of a taxi with officers nearby.

The second shooting took place in July 2022 and resulted in the death of a homicide suspect from Georgia who had allegedly barricaded himself in a building and shot at officers.

Dieck was the first and only officer to fire his weapon during the 2018 incident and the second or third of three to shoot in 2022. In both cases, the department cleared Dieck of wrongdoing, and local district attorneys declined to file charges.

When contacted by the Sentinel, Lewis family attorney Edward Hopkins said he was hesitant to draw conclusions on the basis of two incidents but that if an officer was biased against Black people, it would be reasonable to expect them to demonstrate a pattern of escalating violence toward Black men over the course of their career.

“I know it’s easy to become desensitized to this,” Hopkins said. “Every time it happens, we should be more outraged, not less…. The same officer who is tasing a defenseless Kyle Vinson, that same officer is now on your SWAT team, shooting and killing Kilyn Lewis. If that doesn’t alarm the typical Aurora resident, who thinks about human beings as if they’re all valuable, what’s going to do it?”

Hopkins said his firm, Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, requested the unedited bodycam footage of the shooting of Lewis as well as the training records of Dieck from the Aurora Police Department more than three weeks ago but has yet to receive those records.

He warned that, if the department would not willingly hand over records, the family would seek them through a lawsuit.

“We think there’s something on the Kilyn Lewis bodycam, audio or video, that they simply do not want us to see, and we are going to connect the dots when we get it,” Hopkins said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information about Michael Dieck’s participation in officer-involved shootings in 2018 and 2022 as well as information about the Aurora Police Department’s investigation into Dieck’s decision to use force during the 2021 arrest of Kyle Vinson.