“Good Samaritan” Johnny Hurley died needlessly last year because nearby Arvada police officers failed to confront a gunman in Olde Town Arvada, failed to verify that Hurley was a threat and an officer failed to announce himself as a police officer before shooting Hurley from behind, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday by Hurley’s mother.
Kathleen Boleyn, sued Arvada police Chief Link Strate and former Officer Kraig Brownlow on Wednesday, filing her lawsuit a year and day after Brownlow shot and killed her son. Hurley posed no threat to the officers, the lawsuit states.
Hurley took on the job of police when they failed to act, Boleyn said. He paid for his heroism with his life.
“People have spent a year thinking it was just a sad tragedy, a mistake,” Boleyn said in an interview.
“And it wasn’t. It was a culmination of active choices,” said her attorney, Siddhartha Rathod. “Choices to hide, choices not to announce.”
Brownlow shot and killed Hurley on June 21, 2021, after Hurley used his concealed handgun to kill a gunman who fired rounds in the busy commercial area of Olde Town Arvada. The gunman, Ronald Troyke, wanted to kill police officers and ambushed Arvada police Officer Gordon Beesley before firing more rounds into parked police vehicles. Hurley was standing above Troyke and holding Troyke’s rifle when Brownlow killed him, believing Hurley to be a threat.
Arvada police internal affairs investigators found Brownlow and two other officers inside a nearby building acted within policy and procedure, police spokesman Dave Snelling said Tuesday. Prosecutors in November announced Brownlow would not face criminal charges for killing Hurley. Strate and other city officials repeatedly lauded Hurley for his actions and said that he likely saved lives.
Snelling disputed the characterization that the three Arvada officers failed to act after hearing gunfire. The officers were watching security cameras and trying to find positions where they could take a safe shot, he said. The entire incident lasted two minutes.
Brownlow resigned from the department in good standing, Snelling said.
“We’d take him back in a heartbeat,” Snelling said.
The department did not change any of its policies or training as a result of Hurley’s death, Snelling said. Officers still get to decide whether to announce themselves before firing, he said.
“If it gives up the tactical advantage then it’s the officer’s decision,” he said.
Boleyn wants the department to change that policy. She believes her son would still be here had Brownlow told him to drop the weapon.
“If in those 11 seconds, they had announced themselves, Johnny would’ve put down the gun and raised his hand,” she said.
“Johnny was ready”
Troyke ambushed and killed Beesley at 1:35 p.m. June 21, 2021, as Beesley strolled through Olde Town Square. Beesley did not have a chance to defend himself from Troyke’s shotgun blast, video shows. After killing Beesley, Troyke shot out the windows of several Arvada police cars parked nearby before trading his shotgun for a rifle.
Many people in the vicinity heard the gunshots, including Hurley inside the nearby Army Navy Surplus store and the three Arvada police offices in an unmarked office building about 100 feet from Beesley’s body. The three officers, including Brownlow, scrambled inside the building but did not go outside despite seeing Troyke with the rifle, documents released by the First Judicial District Attorney show. In interviews after the shooting, the officers said they worried about the man outgunning them because he had a rifle and they had handguns. The officers also feared neither their vests nor the walls of the building would protect them or the others who shared the office building from rifle rounds.
When Hurley heard the gunfire, he ran out of the store and took a position behind a nearby brick wall. He shot and killed Troyke, then ran over to Troyke’s body to take his rifle. A witness to the shooting said Hurley held the rifle pointed down and was unloading it when more shots exploded and Hurley fell to the ground.
Brownlow watched Hurley holding the rifle and thought he was reloading it, the documents show. After watching Hurley through a window, Brownlow decided to shoot him without announcing himself.
“I realize if I yell at him, he’s going to run either to the square area or he’s going to shoot at me with this rifle, and a handgun versus a rifle is not a fair fight,” Brownlow later told investigators, according to a transcript of the interview.
Rathod and Boleyn compared the Arvada officers’ lack of action to the delayed actions of the officers who responded to the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Officers in that incident did not confront the shooter in the school for at least 77 minutes. Nineteen children and two teachers died.
Snelling disagreed with that comparison. The situations were completely different, he said.
The lawsuit also noted that Hurley and Troyke wore different clothes and had different statures. It was not reasonable for Brownlow to confuse Hurley — thin and dressed in a red shirt and pants — with a large man wearing a black shirt and shorts.
“Mr. Hurley’s death was not the result of a misfortunate split-second judgment call gone wrong, but the result of a deliberate and unlawful use of deadly force,” the lawsuit states.
Everything the police should’ve done, Hurley did instead even though it wasn’t his job, Rathod said.
“When the moment arose, Johnny was ready,” Boleyn said. “As he was running toward the danger, he could see the body down. He was not asking himself if he was outgunned, or how many other people were there.”
“This light has been taken”
Hurley, 40, was a charismatic jokester with the gift of gab and a wide range of hobbies, his mom said. He delved deep into any subject that caught his interest: skateboarding, organic cooking, politics, volunteering, music. He collected friends everywhere he went — and kept them. Hundreds of people came to his funeral, including high school friends from other states. His kindergarten teacher sent Boleyn a card.
“If you were having fun with Johnny you didn’t care about being with anybody else, you were just having fun,” Boleyn said.
Since her son’s death, Boleyn received a wave of cards and messages and hugs from people who called Hurley a hero, she said. Boleyn set up a small memorial in the driveway of her Colorado Springs home. As she worked from home, she watched neighbors and strangers pause to read about her son. She saw people salute the flag she set up there. It helped her grieve.
“I want people to know how grateful the citizens were that Johnny was there,” she said. “When I made it to the square and saw his memorial, I watched people sending their children with flowers to lay at his memorial. People came to me and said, ‘Your son saved many lives.’”
The praise and gratitude came quickly, but officials released details about what happened in those horrific two minutes in Olde Town Arvada very slowly.
Boelyn didn’t learn that an Arvada police officer killed her son until four days after his death. She didn’t learn that three police officers were in the immediate vicinity but didn’t act when the shooting began until months later when the district attorney released her findings.
The facts and timeline matter, Boleyn said. People should know exactly what happened that day.
But neither the details of what happened nor the lawsuit will bring back her only son.
“The grief overshadows the information,” she said. “Whatever happened, I don’t have Johnny. Whatever happened, this light has been taken.”
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