By COLLEEN SLEVIN Associated Press
AURORA, Colo. (AP) – A decorated Vietnam War veteran woke up to the sound of his front door crashing in and saw a naked intruder attack his grandson, so he acted to protect his loved ones, according to his family’s lawyer.
As the man tried to choke and drown the boy in the bathroom, Richard Black and his son desperately tried to pull him off early Monday, even poking him in the eyes, before the 73-year-old grabbed his 9mm handgun and shot the intruder twice in the chest, lawyer Siddhartha H. Rathod said.
Soon after, police responding to 911 calls shot and killed Black in his house outside Denver.
“Mr. Black did everything right. His actions saved his grandson’s life. He should be in the mayor’s office getting a commendation for his heroism. Instead he’s in the morgue,” Rathod said.
It’s the fourth police shooting in the city of Aurora in about a month. Police say the officer who killed Black also was involved in another fatal shooting on June 27 that is still being investigated.
Police in Aurora – Colorado’s third-largest city on the eastern edge of Denver – so far have released only some details as they investigate the shooting in the racially mixed neighborhood of mostly 1950s ranch homes, saying they need to balance transparency with ensuring a credible investigation.
But they plan to release more information at a news conference Thursday.
“We know how important it is for our community to know and understand what occurred the night of this officer-involved shooting and making sure you have the best information possible,” Chief Nick Metz said in a video posted online Wednesday.
He expressed frustration with unspecified false information that has spread in the absence of more details from police. He said police know what happened – based on evidence including 911 recordings, officer body camera footage and interviews. Metz also expressed his sympathy to members of Black’s family.
“This has been a very tragic situation and a very heartbreaking situation for everyone involved, and our hearts go out to the Black family,” the chief said.
Police have previously said officers responded to a “very chaotic and violent scene” and one 911 call said an intruder was breaking in to the home.
Black’s wife, Jeanette, called authorities from outside, describing her husband and son, who are white, and the intruder, who was black, Rathod said.
Police said officers heard gunshots fired inside and “encountered an armed male.” An officer opened fire, striking the man, who police say turned out to be the homeowner.
They said a juvenile was found with serious injuries in the home’s bathroom along with the dead intruder, identified by the Adams County coroner’s office as 26-year-old Dajon Harper. The boy, whose age wasn’t released, was expected to recover.
Black’s neighborhood is not far from the new, desirable Stapleton community built at Denver’s former airport. The houses are smaller in the older area and some are not kept up as well as Black’s home, where he was known for watering flowers and vegetables in raised beds and building a zip line for his grandchildren.
Neighbors say crime – mainly robberies, shootings and drugs – is a problem and back Black’s actions to defend his family, which is allowed under Colorado law. The state was one of the first to adopt a “Make My Day” law allowing people to shoot and kill intruders in self-defense in their homes.
But neighbors’ feelings about police vary.
Last month, a woman was stabbed during an attempted robbery at her home nine blocks away. Neighbor Troy Jones said the ice cream man was robbed at gunpoint across the street from his home a few weeks ago.
Jones said crime became more of a problem after many longtime residents died and their homes were turned into rentals. Jones, who owns his home, said he has a good relationship with the police officer assigned to the neighborhood and sometimes talks to officers who stop in the parking lot of the church next door. But he is concerned about police shootings in the city.
“If they’re scared in their jobs, they need to be in different jobs,” he said.
Mike Montgomery, a neighbor and retired Marine, said he tries to give police the benefit of the doubt during investigations and wonders what the officer who killed Black must be going through.
He said anyone who is not armed in the neighborhood is crazy and that he would have done the same thing as Black to protect his family.
“He was put in a bad situation, a situation he shouldn’t have been put into. Nobody should,” he said.
Associated Press writer Michelle Monroe and researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.
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