In a tragic story out of Colorado, police shot and killed a Vietnam Veteran, Richard “Gary” Black, 73, who was defending his grandson from a naked attacker who burst through the front door of their Aurora home and tried to strangle and drown the boy in a bathtub.
According to the Denver Post, the Aurora emergency switchboard starting lighting up in the early morning hours of July 30 with calls about a disturbance in the vicinity of North Iola Street and East Montview Boulevard. Then, a call came in from the Black residence, stating their home was being broken into.
The family was asleep when the trouble began. Military Times reports that the naked intruder, Dajon Harper, 26, left a party across the street and crossed the five-lane thoroughfare to break down the door of the Black residence.
“He’s literally kicked in some people across the street door. … He’s on some type of drug or something,” a woman claiming to be Harper’s mother frantically stated in a call to 911, as reported by the Military Times. “He’s running through the neighborhood busting cars, busting in people’s doors while they sleep. I don’t know what he’s on. He’s bleeding.”
Harper, who had just been released from prison in February where he was serving a sentence for a weapons and menacing charges, grabbed Black’s 11-year-old grandson as he slept on the couch, choked him, and took him to the bathroom where he attempted to drown him in a bathtub, the Denver Post says.
Black and his stepson struggled with the intruder, even striking him with a vase in an effort to end the violence. At that point, the elder Black, a concealed carry permit holder, grabbed his 9mm pistol and ended the altercation by shooting and killing Harper.
Soon after, police entered the home and encountered Black in his living room, where an unidentified officer shot the 73-year-old man, who later died at the hospital.
The Army Times says police arrived on the chaotic scene just in time to hear Black’s shots ring out. The Military Times says that a number of the other partygoers added to the chaos by following Harper into Black’s house in an attempt to extricate him from the situation. Others revelers were standing outside with Black’s wife of 39 years, who was on the phone with 911 when police arrived.
The Denver Post says police admitted to killing Black in his home at 1:30 a.m. on July 30. No explanation was offered, other than that police arrived to a “chaotic and violent scene,” heard gunshots and encountered an armed man in the living room, whom they shot.
“This is a horror movie scenario,” said Siddhartha Rathod, the Black family’s attorney. “There’s no question Mr. Black is a hero, that Mr. Black saved his grandson’s life. This truly is a tragedy.”
Military Times reports that the officer that fired the four shots that took Black’s life encountered the man with a pistol in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Black reportedly raised his flashlight and began to walk toward the unidentified officer.
The family and the prosecutors asked that the officer’s bodycam footage not be released, but Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz issued the following statement: “I can tell you that when my folks sat around the table and first saw it—and I’m talking about police personnel who have been on the job 25, 30 years who have seen just about everything—there wasn’t a dry eye around the table. It is very horrific to watch, not just from the standpoint of watching a man who saved his family get shot but also knowing what that little boy was subjected to.”
Military Times says Metz added that he did not hear the uniformed officers identify themselves as police in the body camera video. He said Black had a “significant hearing impairment” from his military service that may have made it hard for him to hear the orders to drop his gun.
Additionally, Black had just fired at least one gunshot inside of a bathroom, which can cause temporary hearing impairment and potentially permanent hearing damage.
On August 2 the Dever Post reported that Metz said his officers ordered Black to drop his gun multiple times, but they did not identify themselves as police before firing at him.
From the story: “Multiple officers already had heard gunshots from inside the home…and were standing near the front door’s threshold, looking into the well-lit home when they saw homeowner Gary Black come around a corner holding a gun and a flashlight, Metz said.”
“For the next 13 seconds, officers continued to give at least five commands to Mr. Black to drop the gun and to show his hands,” Metz said Thursday at a news conference. “We don’t know why, but for whatever reason Mr. Black did not drop the gun.”
Metz defended his officers’ actions during the press conference, including the shooter.
“There was a reference that our officers acted recklessly,” Metz said in the story. “I dispute that strongly. They were not reckless. They responded how I would expect them to respond given the limited amount of information they were given.”
Black was a South Carolina native and a graduate of The Citadel. He served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war where his actions earned him the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. After the army, he worked as an agent for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and obtained a certified public accountant license.
“He was a wonderful family man who loved spending time with his grandchildren and caring for his garden,” Elisa Black-Taylor, Richard’s half-sister, told the Denver Post. “I’ve chatted with his daughter, and she says he saved his family when an intruder broke into his home. He will be remembered as a hero, both for his service to his country as well as to the family who loved him.”