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Denver Officers’ Shooting Of Man Armed With Airsoft Pistol Ruled Justified

Denver, CO – The Denver County District Attorney’s Office has ruled the officer-involved shooting of 41-year-old Antonio Blackbear in September was justified and said the officers who killed him will not face charges.

The shooting began at 4:54 p.m. on Sept. 9 when police responded to at least 15 911 calls about a man brandishing a gun at West 10th Avenue and Inca Street, near West High School, KCNC reported.

Police said multiple witnesses said a man had waved a gun at them and made threats.

Officers arrived on the scene nine minutes after the first 911 call, KCNC reported.

The police report said that when officers arrived, Blackbear was pointing a gun at the “terrified” occupants of a Ford Explorer and ordering them to get out of their vehicle, the Canon City Daily Record reported.

He had also reportedly threatened other people in the area and pointed his gun at the occupants of a pickup truck as it drove by the Ford Explorer, KCNC reported.

Denver Police Officers Kyle Saunier and Lynnea Vento got out of their unmarked police vehicle and used its doors for cover when they arrived, the Canon City Daily Record reported.

Both officers were in uniform but they did not active the lights or siren on their police SUV.

Prosecutors said Officers Saunier and Vento waited for the couple from the SUV Blackbear was carjacking to clear the area before drawing attention to themselves, the Canon City Daily Record reported.

Then police ordered Blackbear to put his hands up and to drop the weapon multiple times but the armed man ignored them.

Prosecutors said Blackbear pointed his gun at the officers and began advancing toward them and the officers opened fire, KCNC reported.

Officer Saunier fired his weapon nine times and Officer Vento fired her weapon four times, KUSA reported.

“When Mr. [Blackbear] saw the officers, he pointed what convincingly appeared to be a Glock handgun directly at these officers and they acted in self-defense and in defense of others,” Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said in a letter released on Nov. 23.

“This was a clear cut situation: Mr. [Black Bear] was threatening lives as these officers responded to several community members’ calls for help,” McCann said.

Blackbear was transported to Denver Health and was pronounced dead early the next morning, KUSA reported.

The officers and witnesses at the scene all said they thought Blackbear had fired his weapon at the officers, the Canon City Daily Record reported.

“It was not possible for Officers Saunier and Vento to apply nonviolent means before resorting to physical force,” the district attorney said in her letter. “When they arrived at the scene, they encountered Mr. Blackbear in the midst of an aggravated robbery and/or kidnapping. Several citizens also were in the immediate area.”

Police recovered Blackbear’s weapon at the scene.

It turned out to be a realistic-looking airsoft pistol, KCNC reported.

But the district attorney said there was no way the police officers could have known that the gun was not real, the Canon City Daily Record reported.

McCann said Blackbear’s airsoft pistol was “indistinguishable from a Glock 17 Gen 3 semi-automatic handgun,” KUSA reported.

“There is no doubt that these officers thought this was a real gun capable of causing death to themselves and the bystander(s) in the area,” McCann’s letter read. “This belief was objectively reasonable. Indeed both officers as well as several witnesses believed Mr. Blackbear fired his replica gun at the officers.”

“There was no time to use any force other than deadly force,” the letter continued. “Nonviolent means would have been ineffective in preventing this imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death to the officers and other persons.”

Toxicology reports showed that Blackbear had a blood-alcohol concentration of .144 when he was shot, the Canon City Daily Record reported.

Written by
Sandy Malone

Managing Editor - Twitter/@SandyMalone_ - Prior to joining The Police Tribune, Sandy wrote the Politics.Net column for the Wall Street Journal and was managing editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. More recently, she was an internationally-syndicated columnist for Conde Nast (BRIDES), The Huffington Post, and Monsters and Critics. Sandy is married to a retired police captain and former SWAT commander.

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Written by Sandy Malone


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