DENVER (AP) — A Colorado city will make sweeping police reforms and pay $2.6 million to relatives of an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by an officer in 2015, officials announced Monday.
Officials in Aurora have pledged to increase the use of body cameras, expand the police unit that investigates allegations of officer wrongdoing, bolster civilian oversight and improve diversity on the force as part of the settlement over the March 2015 shooting of Naeschylus Carter Vinzant.
The settlement and payout, a record for Colorado's third largest city, located east of Denver, was reached to avoid a potentially costly and divisive lawsuit, city attorney Mike Hyman said.
"Aurora has honored the family's wishes by using Naeschylus' death as an occasion for introspection and positive change in its police department," said Qusair Mohamedbhai, an attorney representing Vinzant's family.
Vinzant's death came amid a national debate over whether officers are held accountable for on-duty shootings.
His former wife, Bernadette Allen-Carter, said Aurora's reforms are a step toward improving police-community relations.
A grand jury in December declined to indict Officer Paul Jerothe, concluding he acted reasonably when he shot Vinzant once in the chest while trying to arrest him.
Vinzant was on parole for an assault conviction and had cut off his monitoring bracelet and fled after beating his wife and taking their 2-month-old child four days before the shooting, authorities said.
Jerothe, who is white, was a member of a tactical team that converged on Vinzant as he walked down a street.
Jerothe and other officers who were at the scene told the grand jury they believed Vinzant was about to pull a gun and open fire.
An officer initially said he overheard Jerothe say the shooting was an accident. But the officer retracted the statement when he was formally interviewed, saying he didn't know if that was a direct quote or just his interpretation of Jerothe's comment.
Prosecutors have acknowledged discrepancies among officers' initial recollections of the encounter and what they later told investigators.
Jerothe, interviewed six days after the shooting, told investigators he did not remember what he uttered in the immediate aftermath of the shooting but fired in fear for his safety.
Jerothe, who received national recognition for saving lives in the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting, is still on the job. Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz said the department will now decide where to assign him.
This story has been corrected to show the settlement was reached ahead of a lawsuit being filed, not after a lawsuit was filed.