DENVER — A former Colorado police officer has been found guilty of failing to intervene as another officer pistol-whipped and strangled an unarmed man.
Francine Martinez, who worked for the Aurora Police Department, became the first officer in the state to be convicted by a jury under a police accountability law requiring officers to intervene if they witness colleagues using excessive force.
The law was adopted in 2020 after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer outside a corner store as three other officers stood by.
A jury in Arapahoe County District Court determined last week that Martinez stood by as former officer John Haubert struck Kyle Vinson more than a dozen times with his handgun and threatened to kill him in July 2021.
Haubert also pointed his gun at Vinson’s head, bodycam video shows. Vinson sustained a cut on his head, and one eye was swollen shut.
Martinez was fired, and Haubert resigned.
“This should be a wake-up call for all law enforcement officers that the thin blue line of silence won’t be tolerated in Colorado,” Vinson’s attorney, Siddhartha Rathod, said Tuesday. “Officers have a moral, ethical and legal duty to intervene and to say something when their fellow officers are committing acts of violence or crimes or other wrongdoings.”
The former officers were responding to a report of trespassing in the 3100 block of South Parker Road when they encountered three people who had outstanding felony warrants and tried to arrest them.
Two of the people ran, but the third, Vinson, did not, police said.
Video showed Haubert with his hands around Vinson’s throat for 39 seconds as Vinson appeared to begin to lose consciousness.
In an affidavit, a witness, Jamie Bourknight, (not sure if this is an officer or not) claims that Vinson kicked one of them; the video does not appear to show it.
“We’re disgusted. We’re angry. This is not police work,” then-Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said at the time. “We don’t train this. It is not acceptable.”
Phone calls to Martinez and his attorney, David Goddard, were not returned Tuesday.
Colorado’s “failure to intervene” law also requires all officers to use body cameras by this July, bans chokeholds, limits potentially lethal uses of force and removes qualified immunity from police, potentially exposing officers to lawsuits for their actions in use-of-force cases.
“I watched the majority of it [the body camera video] — not all at once, but it’s kind of hard to take in,” Vinson told NBC affiliate KUSA of Denver. “I’m just thinking I’m thankful I’m still here, because I thought I was going to die or be another Elijah McClain or George Floyd.”
Martinez is the first officer to be convicted by a jury under the law. Former Loveland officer Daria Jalali pleaded guilty last year to failing to intervene during the arrest of a 73-year-old woman who had dementia. Jalali, who no longer works for the Loveland Police Department, was sentenced to 45 days in jail.
Martinez, who was convicted of a misdemeanor count of failure to intervene for her role in the arrest of Vinson, faces up to a year in jail when she is sentenced June 2.
Haubert is charged with first-degree assault causing serious bodily injury with a deadly weapon, second-degree assault/strangulation and felony menacing, among other counts. His trial is scheduled in November.