An unprecedented start to 2018 left two suspects dead and members of the Arvada Police Department under investigation following two officer-involved shootings in January. “It’s been a horrible …
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An unprecedented start to 2018 left two suspects dead and members of the Arvada Police Department under investigation following two officer-involved shootings in January.
“It’s been a horrible month and a half,” said David Snelling, detective with the Arvada Police Department.
At the same time the Arvada Police Department was handling the two January shootings, many in the department were also attending funerals for area law enforcement killed in the line of duty.
“I think it brings up concerns for law enforcement nationwide, especially Colorado,” Snelling said. “I really hope it’s a trend that changes.”
In Arvada, the last officer-involved shooting prior to January was in 2014.
In that context, Jill McGranahan, public relations coordinator for the Arvada Police Department, called January’s shootings “unprecedented.”
“I think it speaks to the intensity of the encounters our officers are facing on a daily basis,” she said.
On Jan. 14, Arvada Police officers pursued suspect Erick Michael Deleon, 25. The department reports that Deleon was carrying a handgun when confronted by police and that he raised his weapon in the direction of Arvada officers. An officer fired, striking Deleon with a non-fatal shot. The department reports that Deleon then turned his weapon on himself and shot himself in the head. Later, the Jefferson County coroner concluded that Deleon died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Two weeks later, officers once again shot at a suspect, the evening of Jan. 31. Arvada police were in pursuit of Adrian Valdez, 39. This time, a K9 was assisting them. It’s reported that Valdez was armed with a knife and after several commands to drop the weapon, he instead charged at the officers and the K9. Officers shot Valdez. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Both incidents are now under investigation by the Jefferson County Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT), which is made up of members of Jefferson County law enforcement agencies and members of the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office.
The officers involved have been placed on administrative duty, per standard operating procedure, during the ongoing CIRT investigation.
“This is one of the most traumatic things they can be involved in,” Snelling said, of officers involved in shooting a suspect. “It’s not ... punishment, but time to process.”
Counseling is required for officers during this time to ensure there are no lingering issues and that they are fit for duty mentally.
The CIRT team was established in Jefferson County in 1990 to investigate any discharge of a firearm by a law enforcement officer which resulted in death or injury.
The incident is investigated by law enforcement agencies outside of the one involved in the incident to maintain transparency.
“We can say with great confidence that we have been a leader with the state in the way we investigate officer-involved shootings,” said First Judicial District Attorney Pete Weir. “We’ve always been committed to making sure we have an independent investigation that is transparent and accountable to the public.”
The fundamental principle, Weir said, is that they don’t want a department investigating a shooting involving their own officer.
At the conclusion of CIRT investigation, the findings are reported to the district attorney, who reviews the investigation in its entirety, and in relation to the applicable law, and then makes a decision as to whether the shooting was legally justified.
There is a hoped-for three-week timeline put on investigations, depending on the complexity of the case. If the shooting is determined to be not justified, legal charges will be brought against the officer involved.
By law, the DA will then publish a letter online detailing the charges.
“It’s critically important to me that there is trust in the process,” Weir said.
While Jefferson County has been doing this for decades, legislation passed in 2015 requires all Colorado law enforcement agencies and district attorneys to develop a protocol for participating in a multi-agency team to conduct the investigation, or review, of incidents involving the discharge of a firearm by a peace officer resulting in injury or death.
This came about because larger agencies, such as Denver and Aurora, previously conducted their own investigations, Weir explained.
“I’m not being critical of that practice, they felt they could compartmentalize,” Weir said. “That has not been what we felt to be the best practice in Jeffco. That’s why the agency involved is not involved in the investigation.”
On average the CIRT team investigates two to five cases a year.
“We understand the importance of the incidents to the community,” Weird said.
“Certainly the impact on the person who was shot and their family. But also the impact on the officers involved. There are traumatic instances even when its justified. This shakes an individual to the bones and we have a responsibility to investigate thoroughly, but also be sensitive to those involved.”
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