A day after the Aurora Police Department released a gut-wrenching video of a fatal fight between a Navy veteran and officers, the man’s family is considering suing the agency over his death at the hands of officers.
“We’re investigating,” said Mari Newman, an attorney with the well-known Denver civil rights firm Killmer, Lane and Newman.
Body camera footage released late Monday showed the extensive and brutal fight between David Baker and Aurora police that lead to Baker’s death on Dec. 17. For more than seven minutes, three officers punched, shocked and wrestled with Baker after responding to an Aurora apartment complex and finding him choking a family member. During the fight, Baker choked an officer and grabbed another officer’s Taser. Baker was unarmed.
Baker died after officers took him to the ground outside, handcuffed him and left him facedown on the pavement. The Arapahoe County coroner ruled that Baker died of restraint asphyxia — he couldn’t breath because of the way he was positioned — and ruled his death a homicide.
“It is an incredible tragedy,” said Newman, whose firm has litigated previous Aurora excessive force cases. “David Baker was a veteran. He was a person who was very important to his family. He suffered from mental health issues after his service. This leaves his children without a father.”
The body camera footage released just before 9:30 p.m. Monday was the first time the public was granted access to the video. The police department denied a records request filed in April by The Denver Post for the videos, citing privacy concerns. They later reversed course.
Police spokesman Anthony Camacho said Tuesday that police notified Baker’s next-of-kin before releasing the videos, but Newman said she did not know the release was imminent.
Baker’s family viewed the footage at the police department in the spring with police and prosecutors in the room, Newman said. They had not been given a copy.
“The entire event was not designed to be either comfortable or transparent with the family,” she said. “It was a very intimidating circumstance.”
The police video release compiles footage from the three officers who responded to the incident along with intermittent commentary from Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz.
Newman said the video style was “wacky” and reminded her of a Netflix documentary. She said Metz’s narration was misleading.
“I can’t think of any other instance in which body camera has been released in that way,” she said. “If they didn’t have anything to hide, why should they be going through such contortions to influence how it’s viewed.”
The footage showed officers using their Tasers repeatedly, with no effect. They punched Baker in the head multiple times and hit him with their batons.
About three minutes into the fight, Baker and the officers separated for about 45 seconds. Baker stood near the door to the apartment while his wife pleaded with him to stop fighting and to listen to officers.
“David, please stop, for your son,” she said.
Baker remained by the door, breathing heavily and ignoring orders to get on the ground. One of the officers then pulled on his wrist before grabbing at Baker’s face. The fight resumed.
Officers eventually wrestled Baker to the ground. He yelled “help” repeatedly as police attempted to control him.
As other law enforcement arrived, officers handcuffed Baker. After he stopped fighting, police stood around him as he laid on the pavement.
One officer noted that Baker appeared unconscious, to which one of the three original officers replied: “Good.”
Still, they waited three minutes before starting chest compressions. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Omar Montgomery, a representative from the Aurora chapter of the NAACP, said the organization has been working with the family since shortly after Baker’s death. He said police and prosecutors with the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office answered the family’s questions after the fight.
The incident between police and Baker, who was black, was difficult to watch and complicated, Montgomery said.
“For me, I would love to look at that tape and find out what are the additional things that could have prevented his death,” said Montgomery, who is running to be Aurora’s mayor. “What are some of the things that could have de-escalated the situation?”
The NAACP has had an ongoing conversation with Aurora police about building relationships in the community, diversifying the agency and training regarding use of force, Montgomery said. He also questioned whether Baker would have engaged police at all if he had received mental health services.
“We have to figure out how to do things better,” he said. “The last thing that we want is people dying at the hands of the police.”
Aurora police continue to review the incident, Camacho said.
Reporter Kieran Nicholson contributed to this story.