Friday, July 29, 2011

Chief orders review of shooting

Police Chief Dan Oates ordered an internal investigation Friday into a botched undercover operation last week that resulted in an officer shooting and killing an extortion suspect.

“This event has triggered a number of questions both within the department and the community,” Oates said in a statement. “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.”

Oates stressed that the investigation will not look at whether the officer, whose name has not been released, acted appropriately when he shot 59-year-old Juan Contreras last Saturday. Contreras had a knife when he was shot and the decision about the officer’s use of force is a matter for the district attorney, Oates said. 

Instead, a Tactical Review Board will look at the department’s decision to use an undercover team to arrest Contreras, who police say was trying to extort $50 from an elderly woman after he found her car keys. 

“The TRB is about policy, training, process and decision making. It is about what led up to the moment of that confrontation,” Oates said. “Could we have done this better? We have an obligation to be the best we can be 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.”

Police said Monday that officers, with the approval of a lieutenant and a sergeant, quickly planned an undercover operation to arrest Contreras after he called an elderly woman and told her he had her car keys and would give them back for $50. 

A patrol officer removed his uniform and drove the elderly woman’s car to meet Contreras in the parking lot of a Family Dollar store near East Colfax Avenue and Peoria Street. The officer did not bring a badge and carried only a concealed pistol, a police radio and a pair of handcuffs

When the undercover officer and Contreras met, Contreras told the officer the price had gone up to $100, at which point the officer tried to arrest him. 

The officer didn’t have a badge but police said witnesses heard him identify himself several times as a police officer. 

When the officer grabbed him, Contreras struggled, punched the officer several times and reached for a knife in the center console of his SUV. At that point, the officer stepped back, drew his gun and shot Contreras three times. 

Contreras’ family has said he didn’t realize the man who came to get the keys was an officer. 

Oates instituted the TRB process in 2006. It brings together a group of senior commanders and lower level officers to review all aspects of an operation, 

This TRB will be lead by Comm. Rob McGregor, Oates said. 

Oates previously used a TRB to look at the 2003 shooting of Jamaal Bonner, who was shot by officers during a prostitution sting at the Top Star Motel on Colfax. In that case, the review board recommended changes to the way the department conducts prostitution stings, including that officers no longer carry assault rifles during those operations. 

Oates also launched a TRB to look at the 2008 investigation into the triple-fatal car crash caused by Francis Hernandez. In that review, the board said the department assigned an inexperienced detective to lead the investigation and recommended the department treat major vehicle crashes with the same investigative resources as a murder. 

The process typically takes at least several months. 

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