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Denver officers cleared in fatal shooting of man pointing realistic replica gun at people

The officers didn't know the gun that Antonio Blackbear held Sept. 9 near Denver's West High School wasn't real, according to the district attorney.

DENVER — Denver police officers who shot and killed a man pointing a replica handgun at people didn't know the gun wasn't real and won't face charges, according to a letter released Monday by the Denver District Attorney's Office.

The shooting occurred Sept. 9 near West 10th Avenue and North Inca Street, which is about two blocks east of West High School. Antonio Blackbear, 41, was transported to Denver Health and was pronounced dead early on Sept. 10.

The incident started at 4:54 p.m., when Blackbear was spotted holding a replica handgun at the Colfax and Auraria Light Rail Station. He rode a train to the 10th and Osage station and walked east on West 10th Avenue, still holding the replica gun, the decision letter says.

Denver Police Department (DPD) Officers Kyle Saunier and Lynnea Vento found Blackbear at 10th and Inca Street, the letter says. The officers didn't turn on their lights or sirens.

When the officers arrived on scene, Blackbear turned away from them and pointed the replica gun at a Ford Explorer, whose occupants later described being terrified, according to the letter.

"When they arrived at the scene, they encountered Mr. Blackbear in the midst of an aggravated robbery and/or kidnapping," the letter says. "Several citizens also were in the immediate area."

>> Video above: Officer-involved shooting near Denver's West High School from Sept. 10.

RELATED: 1 dead in officer-involved shooting near Denver's West High School

Without announcing their presence, Saunier and Vento took out their handguns, got out of their vehicle and positioned themselves behind the doors of their vehicle. A pickup truck with a man and his young son passed between the officers and Blackbear, who pointed the replica gun at the pickup, the letter says.

After the pickup passed, the Explorer's driver and passenger got out of their vehicle and ran for cover. The officers yelled at Blackbear to "Show me your hands!" Blackbear advanced on the officers while pointing the replica gun at them, the letter says.

Both officers shot multiple times at Blackbear, not hitting him. Saunier shot again, and one bullet struck Blackbear in the head, according to the letter.

Saunier shot a total of nine times, and Vento shot four times, the letter says.

The officers rendered aid until an ambulance arrived and took Blackbear to Denver Health, where he was pronounced dead early the next morning.

The officers and witnesses all believed Blackbear held a real handgun, the letter says, which adds that the airsoft handgun was "indistinguishable from a Glock 17 Gen 3 semi-automatic handgun."

Credit: Denver District Attorney's Office
Photos in the Denver District Attorney's decision letter that show the airsoft pistol held by Antonio Blackbear in the officer-involved shooting of Sept. 9, 2020.

The District Attorney's Office says the officers faced "a risk of imminent serious bodily injury and death."

"There was no time to use any force other than deadly force," the letter says. "Nonviolent means would have been ineffective in preventing this imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death to the officers and other persons."

Because of this, the DPD officers were justified in using physical force, the letter says: "The belief that Mr. Blackbear was about to use unlawful deadly force and that these officers and others in the area were in imminent danger of being killed was reasonable."

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