Denver District Attorney Beth McCann on Wednesday cleared three Aurora police officers of wrongdoing in the death of a man who shoplifted from a convenience store before eventually leading them on a chase that ended in the Pikes Peak Shuttle parking lot at Denver International Airport.
Denver resident Abel Yohannes, 30, died Oct. 1 in a hail of police gunfire from multiple wounds following the chase, in which vehicles reached speeds as fast as 120 miles per hour, according to a case summary by investigators that McCann sent in a letter notifying Aurora Police Chief Art Acevedo.
Aurora and Denver police got involved after receiving a report of a robbery at the 7-11 at 14490 East Colfax Ave. in Aurora shortly after midnight. A clerk who confronted Yohannes about the theft told police the robber pointed what appeared to be a shotgun at him.
Another customer pointed a pistol at Yohannes, who then drove off and parked at Wolf’s Motor Inn. A police officer later spotted his black Volkswagon Tiguan SUV there before sunrise.
Police converged at the inn, and an officer yelled at Yohannes in the VW saying he was surrounded and ordered him to put up his hands, the investigators’ summary said.
One officer “fired a 40mm round (a less than lethal foam projectile) at the windshield to get the driver’s attention” and saw a passenger inside the SUV. Yohannes “put the VW into reverse and backed up a few feet, then drove forward and drove out of the parking lot” — and sped eastbound on Colfax.
Multiple Aurora police vehicles pursued the VW with lights flashing and sirens blaring. The chase on Interstate 70, and then off it, ended at a concrete barrier in the DIA parking lot. Police officers stated, in their interviews with investigators, that they saw Yohannes raising the BB gun and pointing it.
McCann in conducting her required legal review of this police shooting concluded that officers’ actions were “reasonable and legally justified “ and that “a jury would not find any criminal culpability on the part of these officers.”
She cited “principles of Colorado self-defense law” that “actual danger is not necessary” and found that the police had a “reasonable belief” Yohannes could have killed them by firing the BB gun from behind the windshield of the VW he drove to the DIA lot because “it looked lethal ….. like a genuine AR-15 rifle.”
“Yohannes must have thought it looked lethal as well,” McCann wrote in her letter to Acevedo, “since he used it as a threat when he pointed it at the 7-11 clerk. Both people at the 7-11 who saw the rifle believed it was a real deadly weapon and reported it as such.”
The “reports from the two witnesses at the 7-11 about the driver menacing them with a ‘tactical shotgun,’ coupled with his non-compliant behavior at Wolf’s Motor Inn, followed by the high-speed vehicular eluding,” she wrote, established that the three Aurora police officers who shot him “had probable cause that Yohannes had committed the crimes of felony menacing with a deadly weapon, and felony vehicular eluding. They also had significant and credible reason to believe the driver had the weapon with him in the VW.”
McCann said she would hold an online “community meeting” on May 3 for residents of Denver and Aurora to discuss her findings related to the killing and her conclusions.
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