By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
One of Pachello's meetings with Vicenec took place at a McDonald's in Denver. Pachello noted that the man who dropped her off there, Darrell Havens, was driving a black Audi with no plates on it.
A few days later, Pachello spoke with Arvada detective Bill Johnson, who was trying to ID a couple of auto-theft suspects for whom he had only first names: Darrell and Shannon.
Pachello told him those were his suspects, too.
Seven years ago, Colorado had one of the worst auto-theft rates in the nation. It's now comfortably in the middle of the pack, with a 48 percent decline in the number of cars stolen annually from 2005 to 2008.
The turnabout is a result of a push for more coordinated prevention measures and collaborative enforcement efforts such as the Denver Metro Auto Theft Team. Typically, when law-enforcement budgets are tight, property-crimes investigations suffer the most. On the premise that auto theft is too intimately connected to other serious crimes to be ignored, in 2003 the Colorado Legislature established the Colorado Automobile Theft Prevention Authority, a board of law-enforcement and insurance-industry types charged with doling out grant money to combat the problem.
"People assume that stealing cars is a juvenile, joy-riding type of thing," says Jerry Cole, a former Lakewood police officer who now works as an executive for LoJack and as vice-chairman of CATPA. "But it's more like a burglary. When you steal a car, you get to steal what's in it and on it. You get to use it in another crime or trade it for something else you want, like drugs. Meth, identity theft -- that's a significant part of what auto theft is about these days."
With start-up donations provided by two insurance companies, CATPA was able to help finance education campaigns urging people not to leave their cars running unattended and enforcement work by DMATT, a sporadic overtime team bringing together experts from different agencies. Since 2008 the Authority's budget has increased dramatically, thanks to a change in the law that now funnels one dollar of every auto-insurance premium paid in the state to CATPA. The influx of money has helped create full-time task forces such as the Metropolitan Area Theft Task Force, which received a CATPA grant for $2.2 million last year and now includes officers from Lakewood, Arvada, Wheat Ridge, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and Denver.
Both DMATT and MATT devote considerable attention to complex investigations that tend to span several counties. Some thieves focus on particular models that are easy to steal and lucrative to chop up for parts; others may be part of a network that leads out of state or out of the country. "Just about every case that we've got involves drugs, identify theft, other property crimes -- it's just amazing," says MATT commander Mike Becker of Lakewood.
Colorado State Patrol captain Dave Santos, the current head of DMATT, says such cases are "easily 90 percent" of his team's focus, too. But with advances in technology, from more sophisticated databases to GPS tracking to electronic monitoring of "bait" cars, these days DMATT rarely gets involved in sting operations like the one that targeted Darrell Havens. A risky pin-and-tase operation just isn't required in most circumstances.
"We have enough undercover cars to follow them and wait for them to come to a stop," Santos says. "We'll try to approach them on foot. There are times and situations, unfortunately, where that isn't practical. But for the most part, we have a non-pursuit policy. We have technology to pick them up and stop them when it is safe."
Becker says his task force has done several undercover stings, but not usually with pin cars. "Sometimes that works well, but it's got its challenges," he says. "We will not chase. We're trying to work smarter, not harder, with this group. We use other technologies to apprehend them. We'll track them until they set down somewhere. We can pick them up later that day or next week."
All of which makes the Havens sting -- a hastily organized effort to box in a mobile suspect behind a busy store, in icy and poorly lit conditions, after having been warned that the suspect was possibly armed and would ram other vehicles to escape -- all the more baffling.
It was a simple plan. Drop off Shannon at work, deliver the Audi to this dude Brewster behind a Target store, and get the hell out of there.
But Havens had a bad feeling about it from the start.
Adam Brewster, the man police arrested in a stolen Honda a few hours before the Havens sting, had a history of arrests for alleged theft, forgery and meth sales. He told Arvada investigators that he'd bought fifteen to twenty cars from Havens. But Havens insists that Brewster was Vicenec's friend, not his.
"I met him one time before the shooting," Havens says. "I guess Shannon had been dealing with him for a long time, but she never mentioned him before that."
The one prior meeting, he adds, took place only days before the shooting, when Brewster bought the Honda -- and saw Havens driving the Audi. Havens claims that he didn't get involved in negotiations on either vehicle. Police say that Brewster arranged to buy the Audi for $200 and some meth, but no discussion of price appears in any of the brief conversations police recorded between Havens and Brewster setting up the meet behind the Target.