A Navy veteran suffocated after a brawl with Aurora police in a case that has at large public scrutiny

An Aurora man died last year because he couldn’t breathe after police restrained him facedown, sat on him after a seven-minute fight and then waited three proceedings before starting chest compressions when they accomplished he was unconscious.

Aurora police won’t release body camera footage related to the death despite pledges of transparency when 32-year-old David Baker, a U.S. Navy veteran, died in their custody on Dec. 17.

Baker died after a brutal and extensive fight with Aurora police officers who had been called to his married woman’s flat for a domestic disturbance. For seven proceedings, three officers punched, wrestled and bit Baker outside the Aurora flat as Baker resisted arrest, including attempting to choke an officer and take one of their batons. One officer used a Taser on Baker 11 times for a total duration of nearly a minute, but the shocks had little effect, according to police documents obtained by The Denver Post through an open records request.

Baker died outside the flat after several officers heaped-up on top of him as he lay facedown on the pavement. The Arapahoe County medical examiner found that he died of restraint physiological state — he couldn’t breathe because of the officers on top of him and the way he was positioned. The medical examiner subordinate the death a killing and aforementioned heart unwellness and obesity likely contributed to Baker’s death.

During a news conference after Baker’s in-custody death, Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz and eighteenth Judicial District attorney George Brauchler secure they would have a complete investigation and would be transparent about the collection. nevertheless, no inside information about the incident were publicly discharged on the far side the two statements provided in the 24 hours instantly following Baker’s death.

“Obviously this is a very serious and important issue that we want to make sure that we are providing the highest quality investigation and transparency,’  Metz aforementioned at a news conference the day after Baker died.

The eighteenth Judicial District completed a review of the incident, but did not tell the public it was finished or issue a public letter, as it does with other in-custody deaths. The letters about so much incidents generally explain what happened in a death and explain prosecutors’ legal analysis of officers’ actions.

At the same news conference, Brauchler insinuated that the police would release the body camera footage and secure that his office would treat the investigation the same way it does when police shoot and kill person.

“I know that Chief Metz would if he could — and I suppose he could force it and put it out right now — I have asked him, as I’ve done in the past, with all respect please do not release the body cam until we’ve have the chance to analyze the situation,” Brauchler aforementioned.

Neither of those property happened.

The more than 400 pages of documents discharged to The Denver Post detail for the first time how Aurora officers fought with Baker — even considering shooting him — and the investigation into his death. Baker’s family told investigators that the man had struggled recently with mental health issues. The three officers who responded to the scene aforementioned they felt like they were fighting for their lives with a man apparently impervious to pain.

A brawl

Baker’s married woman told police that Baker had worked in the U.S. Navy and had depression, bipolar disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder, police documents show. She aforementioned that he was abusive and she had tried to get him guidance through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But he had been turned away or given appointments months down the road.

She had asked him to leave the flat they shared and unsuccessful to obtain a restraining order against him about a month before he was killed, police documents show. Baker had been allowed into the flat the day he was killed because he asked if he could take a shower there.

But the situation in the flat quickly deteriorated, Baker’s family told police. Baker vulnerable his married woman with a room pan and clogged his relative-in-law, threatening to kill him.

Three Aurora police officers were called on Dec. 17 to the Willowick Apartments, 10653 E. Jewell Ave., for a call about a domestic disturbance.

When the officers arrived at 6:25 p.m., they found Baker inside a first-floor flat fighting some other man, according to the officers’ reports. Baker then turned to the officers, who told him to get on the ground. Baker did not, and instead “continued to flex his chest muscles,” according to one of the officer’s accounts.

One of the officers, Kristi Mason, discharged her Taser at Baker, but it had no effect. Baker, who was unarmed, then charged the officers, and the group of four started fighting outside the flat.

During the struggle, officers used batons, Tasers and their fists. One officer bit Baker. Baker grabbed one officer, Ryan Stoller, by the throat but discharged him. At least once during the fight, the officers and Baker bust apart, but the officers distinct to start fighting with Baker again.

Mason thought about pull out her gun and shooting Baker, but didn’t know if she could do so safely.

“Mason was concerned that if the suspect did get pass them what he might do to anyone else,” an interview summary declared. “Mason thought that his intention was to harm or kill us, referring to the officers.”

Eventually, the officers pulled Baker to the ground. Stoller sat on his back piece others tried to control his arms and staying power. Other officers arrived at the scene, responding to a radio call for help. They tried to hogtie Baker by copulative his restrained back staying power to his handcuffed hands.

By 6:34 p.m., Baker had stopped-up fighting and appeared unconscious, according to a written summary of one officer’s body camera footage.

An officer then called paramedics, who had been stationed nearby.

While police waited for paramedics, Baker remained facedown on the pavement for more than a minute and a half. Officers discussed whether or not Baker still had a heartbeat and was breathing. They then turned him on his side and eventually rolled Baker onto his back and started chest compressions. Three proceedings had passed between the time they called for paramedics and when they started compressions.

Paramedics with Aurora Fire arrived at 6:38 p.m. and found Baker had no pulse. They transported him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Three officers suffered minor injuries during the fight, including one officer who got a Taser probe in his pinkie.

When asked if any of the officers faced discipline in connection to Baker’s death, Aurora police interpreter Anthony Camacho aforementioned the agency is still reviewing the incident.

“The case is still going through various reviews,” he aforementioned. “It is not at the place yet where information can be discharged.”

Different standard

At the news conference instantly after the death, District attorney Brauchler secure to investigate the incident as if it were an officer-involved shooting. But his office veered from how it handles shooting deaths and did not issue a full decision letter about the inquiry or advise the public that the inquiry was finished.

Rich Orman, senior chief deputy district attorney, investigated the incident and found that none of the officers involved bust the law, according to a brief letter to Metz dated March 19 and provided to The Denver Post.

But the short letter is not standard for the office when dealing with officer-involved shootings, or even a recent Taser death in the same judicial district. In an Elbert County Taser death case from April 2018, the DA’s office discharged a seven-page letter, which it posted online. The full letter basined a narrative of the events in question as well as a legal analysis of the Elbert County sheriff’s deputies’ actions.

“We conducted a thorough review,” Orman wrote in an emailed statement about the difference in the Baker investigation. “In conducting our review, we examined all of the body-worn camera footage, recorded interviews, and reports generated by the police investigation. After this thorough review, based on the facts, and the fact that the death was not the result of the police exploitation a weapon of any kind, we determined that a short letter to the police was appropriate.”

Aurora police rejected The Denver Post’s request for the body camera footage, in part, because it showed Baker’s young children. The department does not have the technology to blur faces in videos, aforementioned Robert Boisselle, open records organizer for Aurora police. The department besides declined to provide an edited copy of the video that would have excluded the moments the children were in the picture.

“The deceased male and his living family members, in addition to juveniles present at the scene, all have variable expectations of privacy interests,” Boisselle wrote in a letter to The Denver Post. “To protect these individuals from unnecessary harassment and public scrutiny, piece preserving the victims’ privacy and personal dignity, it was distinct the privacy interests of the involved individuals outweigh any public purpose to be served by revelation of the videos.”

Boiselle aforementioned he was not sure whether Baker’s family had been consulted regarding the release of footage.

The police department is not obligated under Colorado law to release the body camera footage, aforementioned Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. But there is inherent public interest in footage and documents when a member of the public dies during an action with police, he aforementioned.

“The point of having body cameras is to have more evidence of an officers conduct and how they act with the public,” he aforementioned. “If you never see that, it kind of defeats the purpose of having the footage.”

The day after Baker’s death, Aurora police asked the Arapahoe County medical examiner’s Office to not release Baker’s autopsy report because it would “result in a substantial injury to the public interest,” records show. The office did release the report to The Denver Post in April. The Aurora police documents besides include an Aurora Fire Department report about Baker’s death, but the report is entirely redacted.

Excited delirium?

Multiple officers who responded to the flat that night told investigators that Baker appeared to be high, though the medical examiner found only traces of marijuana during a toxicological exam.

One officer aforementioned Baker appeared to exhibit symptoms of excited delirium, a physical condition that makes person aggressive, apparently impervious to pain and paranoid. The existence of the condition is debated between law social control and medical experts, but the Arapahoe County medical examiner’s report on Baker’s death noted that “a component of excited delirium cannot be definitively excluded.”

Law social control have struggled for years how to deal with people exhibiting symptoms of excited delirium. The Denver Sheriff’s Office changed its policies on restraints and positioning and in agreement to train deputies further on excited delirium after a man died in the Downtown Detention Center piece being restrained by six deputies.

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Michael Marshall physiological stateted in the Downtown Detention Center after the deputies held him facedown and used wrist and ankle joint joint restraints, similar to Baker. The city later paid $4.6 million to Marshall’s family before they filed a lawsuit.

The new Denver sheriff’s policy states that a person should be turned on their side or be allowed to sit up as shortly as possible. Denver public safety agencies besides use a protocol to help first responders safely work with people exhibiting symptoms of excited delirium.

Aurora police policy allows officers to use leg restraints in violent incidents, but strongly cautions against copulative restrained feet to handcuffs.

Aurora police aforementioned the case was still under review when asked whether the department had changed any of its policies in response to Baker’s death.