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Grand jury to hear case of Aurora, Colorado, police officer who killed unarmed parolee

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GOLDEN, Colorado — A grand jury will decide whether to indict a suburban Denver police officer who shot and killed an unarmed parolee.

In a rare move, Jefferson County prosecutors said Tuesday they have forwarded their case involving Aurora police officer Paul Jerothe to a grand jury in Arapahoe County, which will begin in July.

Jerothe fatally shot Naeschylus Carter Vinzant, 37, on March 6 as officers tried to arrest him. Vinzant had removed a state Department of Corrections ankle monitor and was also wanted on assault, robbery, kidnapping and domestic violence charges.

Authorities have not said why Jerothe fired his weapon.

A grand jury was the best way to provide a thorough and impartial review of the complex case, said Jefferson County District Attorney Pete Weir, who received the case the evening of the shooting. The case includes many witness accounts and physical evidence, he said.

But Weir offered no new details about what led to the shooting.

Vinzant's family and the Aurora police department issued a joint statement Tuesday, saying the grand jury will be "a truth-seeking exercise that will reveal all information" about his death. They called for peace while the community awaits answers. They gave no new details about the shooting.

Jerothe remains on desk duty, and his attorney did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Vinzant "was loved by many, and his family continues to grieve his loss," the statement said. His relatives said they support recent efforts to improve the Aurora police department's internal affairs process and were grateful for the department's communication with them.

His death came amid a national debate over holding officers criminally responsible for on-duty shootings. Grand juries chose not to indict white officers in killings of unarmed black men in New York and Missouri, spurring protests decrying the grand jury system as biased.

In Colorado, prosecutors typically investigate officer-involved shootings and make their findings public.

Vinzant's killing also sparked protests. He was black, and Jerothe is white.

Jerothe received national honors for saving lives in the 2012 Colorado theater shooting, which is being prosecuted by Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler.

Weir investigated Vinzant's case because Brauchler recused himself, citing a conflict of interest.

The grand jury will be seated in Arapahoe County, where Vinzant's shooting took place.

Last year, former Rocky Ford police officer James Ashby was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Jack Jacquez in the man's home in the southern Colorado town, becoming the first police officer in the state to face charges in an on-duty shooting death in two decades. District Attorney James Bullock filed the charge himself rather than referring it to a grand jury.

Ashby has pleaded not guilty, and he told investigators that he believed Jacquez was a burglar. But the Colorado Bureau of Investigation concluded that Ashby had no reason to believe Jacquez was committing a crime before the shooting.

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