AURORA, Colo. — The attorney for a 19-year-old who was wounded after he was shot by an officer in July 2021 has notified Aurora Police that he intends to file a lawsuit alleging that the officer acted improperly when he fired into a moving vehicle.
In the early morning hours of July 12, three Aurora police officers responded to the 7-Eleven located at 15296 E. Hampden Ave., to meet with a woman who said her ex-boyfriend had stolen her cell phone and attempted to cause a car accident.
When the suspect arrived, the officers approached his car from across the parking lot. After the suspect allegedly saw the officers, he began backing up his car toward the exit of the parking lot.
Body camera footage from the three officers obtained by Denver7 Investigates shows that the car accelerated toward one of the officers approaching from near the exit. The officer, Bryce Settles, jumps out of the way quickly to avoid being hit. Once out of the car’s path, Settles draws his weapon, shouts “Out!” and fires one round into the front passenger side window as he is alongside the car. The car then drives off out of the exit.
A passenger in the car was unharmed, but the bullet grazed underneath the chin of the suspect.
In the body camera video, Settles is heard saying the driver attempted to run him over with the car. Another officer, the one farthest from shooting, is also heard on her body cam saying the same thing.
The Aurora Police Department’s Use of Force Review Board said that Settles’ decision to shoot into the car was justified. The 18th Judicial District also reviewed the incident and determined that Settles was “legally justified in attempting to use lethal force.”
But the suspect’s attorney, Harvey Steinberg, told Denver7 Investigates that the officer acted irresponsibly and jeopardized his client’s life.
“You can see clearly that the officer was not in any kind of danger when he fires the shot,” Steinberg said while watching the body camera footage.
His argument is that at the time the officer fires a shot, he is alongside the vehicle and not in danger of being hit.
“If the bullet were several inches higher, or even an inch higher, you would have probably caused the death of my client,” Steinberg said. “And remember, he’s being investigated for taking a used cell phone from an ex-girlfriend.”
Denver7 Investigates asked two experts to review the facts of the case and the video as well as the department’s policy on firing into moving vehicles.
“The fundamental tenet is don’t shoot into a moving vehicle unless there is some exigent circumstance,” said David Klinger, a former police officer and professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri St. Louis. “I don’t see exigent circumstances.”
The department’s directive states that “members should not discharge a firearm at a moving vehicle unless a person in the vehicle is immediately threatening the member or another person with deadly force by a means other than the vehicle.”
It also states that “shooting at or from moving vehicles is highly discouraged.”
Stacey Hervey, an associate professor in criminal justice at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said that many departments have gotten away from shooting into cars as it’s hard to know who else is in the car.
“He’s in direct violation of the Aurora policy,” Hervey said. “I think he felt his life was in danger in that moment and made a decision that violated the policy.”
Klinger said his gut reaction is that the shooting could have been avoided, but more information is needed on the officer’s state of mind at the time of the shooting to determine if it is in fact justified.
“It’s a situation where the shooting does not look good, but we don’t know what the officer was thinking,” Klinger said. “The video clearly shows that the officer was not in jeopardy at the moment that he fired. But that’s not the whole issue. The whole issue would include the officer’s perception.”
Steinberg said he was surprised that the district attorney’s office cleared the officer for the shooting.
“They’re basically saying this was a justified shooting,” he said. “And I’ll let the people look at the video and draw your own conclusion.”
Steinberg’s client remains charged with crimes connected to stealing the cell phone. He was not charged with attempted murder of a police officer.