Two Denver police officers who shot and killed a man with a handgun will not face criminal charges in the fatal police shooting.
On Sept. 9, Officers Kyle Saunier and Lynnea Vento fired shots at Antonio Blackbear, 41, according to a decision letter posted Monday about the shooting from Denver District Attorney Beth McCann to Police Chief Paul Pazen.
Police had received 911 calls about Blackbear threatening people with a gun, which turned out to be a a “replica airsoft pistol” resembling a Glock 9mm, at the RTD light rail stations at Colfax and Auraria, and 10th and Osage.
The officers responded and spotted Blackbear with the gun in his hand near the intersection of West 10th Avenue and Inca Street. Blackbear told two people in a Ford SUV to get out of their vehicle as he pointed the gun at them, officials said.
Saunier and Vento, in the same vehicle, arrived and got out of their unmarked SUV, drawing their weapons and using the SUV doors for cover. Both officers were in uniform. The light and siren to the police vehicle was not activated, officials said. They waited, momentarily, for the pair in the Ford SUV to clear the vehicle, and then Saunier yelled at Blackbear, who at that moment was unaware of the police presence, according to the letter.
“Show me your hands!” Saunier commanded. Blackbear turned and walked toward the officers, pointing the gun at them, officials reported.
The officers, from a distance, fired several shots at Blackbear. Both testified that they believed Blackbear had fired the gun he was holding. Witnesses to the shooting also said they believed Blackbear had fired.
After an initial round of gunfire, in which Blackbear was not hit, the suspect continued walking toward the officers. Saunier fired a final round, hitting Blackbear, who fell to the street.
“It was not possible for Officers Saunier and Vento to apply nonviolent means before resorting to physical force,” the decision letter said. “When they arrived at the scene, they encountered Mr. Blackbear in the midst of an aggravated robber and/or kidnapping. Several citizens also were in the immediate area.”
A post mortem toxicology report found that Blackbear had a blood-alcohol concentration of .144 mg/dl, a level considered to be severe impairment.
There was no way for the officers, who others who were threatened by Blackbear, to know the handgun was a replica, the decision letter said.
“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,” the letter said. “This belief was objectively reasonable. Indeed both officers as well as several witnesses believed Mr. Blackbeark fired his replica gun at the officers.”