Colorado police kill extortion suspect at Family Dollar store www.privateofficer.com
AURORA, Colo. July 27 2011– Aurora police said Monday that a plainclothes officer shot and killed an extortion suspect during a struggle as the suspect grabbed a knife.
The family of the dead man, Juan Contreras, 59, has questioned why an officer had to shoot in a Saturday night confrontation in a Family Dollar store parking lot at 12100 East Colfax Ave.
At a Monday news briefing, Aurora police spokesman Detective Bob Friel said the incident began when an elderly woman said she lost her car keys in a King Soopers parking lot and a got a note demanding $50 to get them back.
“This lady lost her keys, got a note on the car saying pay 50 bucks, you can have your keys back,” an officer radioed Saturday night, according to police scanner traffic.
At some point, the supervisors of the patrol unit decided to set up an extortion sting.
To pose as the elderly woman’s representative, a patrol officer removed his uniform shirt — which had his badge pinned on it — and wore a T-shirt and uniform pants as he approached Contreras’ Jeep in the dollar store parking lot.
Police said Contreras played hardball with the undercover officer.
“As the conversation continued, the suspect said that the rate just went up to $100, and he was going to require $100 for that same set of keys,” Friel said.
Friel said that is when the officer knew he had probable cause to make an arrest and stepped toward the Jeep and grabbed the suspect’s arm. He said a struggle began, with the man repeatedly punching the officer in the face.
Friel said a witness told police the officer repeatedly called out, “Aurora police officer, police officer,” to identify himself.
The officer saw the man reach into a center console and pull out a folded knife that was about 9 inches long, Friel said. The officer said the man was trying to open the knife with one hand.
“The officer …felt like this individual was attempting to open the blade of this knife, and (the officer) obviously felt that there was a serious threat to his life and his safety,” Friel said.
“At a certain point, the officer made the decision to release the suspect,” Friel said. “He took a step back from the door and fired three shots into the suspect, which killed him.” Contreras was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
7NEWS reporter Dayle Cedars asked if the officer was able to step back from the suspect in the Jeep, “why did he need to then use deadly force? Why couldn’t he just step back, pull his gun and try to defuse the situation without actually firing?
“All I can speak to is what actually happened. We could ‘what if’ this case for forever,” Friel replied.
“I know that the officer was in tight quarters with a vehicle directly behind him,” Friel added.
Cedars asked if it is department policy for an officer working in plain clothes to not have a badge on him?
Friel said the department would review actions the officers took during the operation and compare that to what policy requires in undercover investigations.
“This was an unusual operation for us,” Friel said. “Certainly, it’s rare that an officer would take off his uniform to conduct an operation.”
During a Sunday interview with 7NEWS, Contreras’ wife, Margarita Guizar, wept as she demanded answers about why her husband, a father of three, was killed.
Guizar said her husband told her he was going to the dollar store and asked her to come with him, but Guizar declined.
“I want to know what happened with him? Why (did) he have three shots?” Guizar asked.
On Monday, an upset family member said Contreras was wary of the plainclothes officer “because he didn’t know he was an undercover cop. Anybody can go up to anybody and say, ‘Oh, I’m an undercover cop.’”
Friel said the lead detective in the fatal shooting and a victims’ advocate met with Contreras’ family before the new briefing to discuss the investigation.
“The Police Department will conduct a formal review of this operation, and the decision-making that was made by supervisors that were involved with the operation,” Friel said.
As is standard procedure in a police shooting, police investigators will present their investigation to the District Attorney’s Office, Friel said. “They will conduct a final review and determine whether or not the officer’s actions were appropriate.”
The officer, who’s been on the department four years, has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.