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Monday, October 24, 2011

Police Shootings: Aurora 9 Denver 2

     So far in 2011, the police in Denver, Colorado, a city of two million, have shot two people, killing both of them. In Aurora, the suburban city of 325,000 that sits adjacent to Denver on its eastern border, the police this year have shot a total of nine people, killing six. (This year 14 Aurora police officers have been assaulted, eleven more than in 2010. Firearm-related homicides are up 33 percent over the past year.)

     This year in Denver, 950 police officers--the entire patrol force--have completed Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, a week-long course. In Aurora, about 150 patol officers have completed CIT training this year. That's about half of the officers assigned street patrol duty. Denver is one of a handful of cities that employs an Assessment Response Team which works with licensed social workers from the city's Mobile Mental Health Unit. The goal is to reduce police contacts with mentally ill people.

     In October, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates ordered each of the city's officers to attend specialized training. In the all-department letter in which the chief acknowledged the "disproportionally high number of officer-involved shootings," said it was time for the department to review its use of deadly force policy. The new training will cover "de-escalation skills including tactical retreat and the use of nolethal force." (In most states, an officer is justified in using deadly force to protect himself or others from serious bodily injury or death. Questionable shootings often include fleeing suspects; vehicles used as weapons situations; cases where the officer thinks the suspect is reaching for a gun; and suspects' holding things in their hands that look like guns. The shooting of manifestly insane people in stand-off situations also brings criticism of the police.)

     What follows is a summary of each police involved shooting case this year in Aurora, Colorado:

Shooting Episode Number One
January 14
     The first shooting of the year involved the wounding of an armed bank robber. (Because there was so little media coverage of this event, I have not been able to identify the subject or gather additional information about the shooting.)

Shooting Episode Number Two
February 10
     Someone tipped the police that Richard Arreola was selling methamphetamine at a middle school. The narcotic officers were surveilling the suspected when, for some unknown reason, he approached them. At some point the suspect raised a handgun. One of the surveilling officers shot and killed Arreola on the spot. 

Shooting Episode Number Three
March 15
     At 11:00 PM officers were called to a Super 8 Motel on a report that a man was threatening a woman with a gun. En route, the police learned that the disturbance had moved to a car in the parking lot south of the motel. According to information issued to the officers, the subject was holding two people hostage. The police blocked off the parking lot and called in the SWAT team.
     As more officers converged on the scene, police heard a shot frired from inside the car. Officers rushed the vehicle, broke out a window, and opened fire. In the gunfight, an officer was shot in the wrist. The hostage taker, 25-year-old Danial A. Garcia, was shot to death. The police also shot and wounded one of the hostages.

Shooting Episode Number Four
March 18
     At 8:15 PM an Aurora officer on patrol spotted a man matching the description of the suspect accused of shooting at a police officer. When patrolman pulled the man's car over, the suspect bolted on foot into an apartment complex courtyard where the suspect fired at the pursuing officer, hitting him in the leg. Police set up a perimeter and began searching for the shooter. As residents of the complex were being evacuated, police learned that the suspect had taken a family in the apartment complex hostage.
     During the stand-off that followed, a member of the SWAT team established communications with the subject who advised that he planned "to go out shooting." The hostages managed to escape and inform the officers that the suspect was holed-up in a back bedroom of their apartment. The SWAT team tried unsuccessfully to flush the man out with tear gas. When the subject, armed with a handgun, tried to escape through a window, officers opened fire, killing him on the spot. Police identified the dead man as 20-year-old Aaron Williams. Williams had been the one who, the day before, had shot at another police officer.

Shooting Episode Number Five
March 20
     Just before midnight, Aurora officers spotted three male suspects inside a fenced-in car storage lot behind a automotive service garage. Several cars had been recently stolen from this neighborhood. The suspects saw the police, jumped into a pickup, and sped off. During the vehicular chase, the police opened fire on the suspects' truck, hitting two of the subjects. One of the men survived his wound, the other died in the hospital a few hours later. The dead man was a 22-year-old Russian immigrant named Oleg Gidenko. The man wounded by the police was 18-year-old Yevgeniy Straystar.
     On May 18, Gidenko's family filed a lawsuit against the city of Aurora. Three weeks later, the Aurora city attorney announced that he was exploring the possibility of a court settlement with the plaintiffs. Court papers revealed that the police officers had fired more that a dozen bullets, and that Gidenko, shot in the head, had died instantly. The city settled the lawsuit out of court.
     On July 11, the Arapahoe County District Attorney announced that the Gidenko/Straystar shootings were justified. In the press release, the district attorney wrote: "I find that Mr. Gidenko's driving constituted an imminent use of deadly physical force and that the officers were justified in using deadly physical force to protect themselves and each other."

Shooting Episode Number Six
July 23
     An elderly woman called the police from a store parking lot. After losing her car keys, she had found a note on her car offering the return of her keys in exchange for $50. The note writer left a phone number. A plainclothed officer used a spare key to drive the woman to meet her would-be extortionist. At a Family Dollar parking lot, the officer met 59-year-old Juan Contreras who now demanded $100 for the keys. While trying to take Contreras into custody, the suspect, while sitting in his car, punched the officer. He then, according to the police report, reached for a 9-inch knife. After repeatedly identifying himself as a police officer, the officer shot Contreras three times in the chest. The suspect died later that night in a local hospital.
     On July 29, Chief Danial Oates, in announcing a Tactical Review Board investigation into the shooting, said, "We need to take a thorough look at the decisions we made that evening and the tactics we employed. We need to determine whether we can learn from this event. Could we have done this better? We have an obligation to be the best we can as a police department, and if we can learn from what occurred here and thereby avoid a deadly confrontation in the future, that will be a positive outcome."

Shooting Episode Number Seven
September 29
     At three in the morning, a homeowner called the Aurora  police to report that a man and a woman were having a loud agrument out in the street. When officers pulled up to the scene, they found two people inside a van. Officers asked the man to alight from the vehicle and he did. When an officer tried to pat this man down, he ran off. After a brief foot chase officers caught up with the subject and tasered him. The shock had little effect. When the man pulled a handgun, the officers shot him. Jerome Blackmon, 21, died a few hours later in the hospital. Police said they had no idea why Blackmon had fled when they tried to frisk him. (Perhaps it was because he was armed with the handgun.)
(See: "Armed and Dangerous: Who the Police Shoot and Why," September 22, 2011 and "Wednesday, October 12: A Busy Day in the Shooting War on Crime," October 22, 2011)

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