Blood In, Blood Out
Eight days after Danny's funeral service, his parents and sister gathered in front of the Nativity scene at the Denver City and County Building. The weather was turning colder and snow was in the forecast as they waited for a few reporters to gather with their cameras and notepads.
Their "press conference" wasn't exactly the biggest news of the day. After all, there was a full-scale riot going on in Seattle, the Ramseys were suing the Star for $25 million, and jurors were beginning deliberations in the murder trial of skinhead Nathan Thill.
Even though Danny died in a police shooting, his death was not receiving anywhere near the attention of the no-knock drug raid in which cops had killed 45-year-old Ismael Mena. The Lopezes were just the family of a known gang member complaining that their son and brother, Danny Ray Lopez III, had been the victim of "blue justice."
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"Dealing With the Devil"
The Lopezes wanted to announce that Danny's nineteen-year-old brother, Dustin, had turned himself in to face charges of first-degree attempted murder, aggravated robbery, first-degree assault and aggravated car theft.
And they wanted to say that Danny didn't have to die the way he did. No matter what the police were saying, the family didn't believe Danny was much of a gang member. He was too soft, too loving, too nice -- despite his criminal record. Danny wasn't hardcore like the Martinez brothers or their brutal friend Pancho, who had started the notorious Deuce-Seven Bloods and initiated Danny into it. He wasn't crazy violent like Alejandro "Speed" Ornelas or a killer like Sammy "Zig Zag" Quintana Jr.
But the Metro-Area Gang Task Force saw him differently. They'd heard that as soon as he was released from prison, Danny had let it be known that the Deuce-Seven were back and that he was going to re-establish the gang's reputation on the streets. The Deuce-Seven had taken a beating in the past couple of years, especially after seven members were implicated in the 1997 rape and murder of fourteen-year-old Brandy DuVall.
Even the other Bloods gangs were incensed by the DuVall killing. Child molesters. Baby-rapers. That's how the Deuce-Seven was referred to on the streets and in the prisons after it happened. Word was that they were marked men.
Danny, who'd been in prison at the time, wasn't as tainted by DuVall's murder. But it was the way he died that made him a gang legend. Judging by the number of rival gangbangers who had attended his funeral services dressed in red to show their respect, Danny had obviously succeeded in reviving the reputation of his old gang -- whether or not that had been his intention.
The Adams County district attorney had yet to announce the findings of its official investigation into Danny's shooting. But the Lopez family didn't expect that the police would hold their own accountable for his death. Not when the victim was a gang member.
And now they had to submerge their grief while they turned their attention to Danny's younger brother, nineteen-year-old Dustin, who had been there when his brother shot the police officer and, sixteen days later, was running when he heard the fusillade that killed his brother. Dustin had stayed on the run for two weeks, living at least part of the time outdoors. But shortly before the press conference, he had finally been persuaded to give himself up and had walked into the Jefferson County jail with his lawyer, Kenneth Padilla.
"I'm just relieved that my son is safe," said Gloria Lopez. "My biggest fear was that the police would approach him the way they did my son, Danny, when he was brutally shot by police...I thank God that Dustin has made the choice, the right choice, to take responsibility for his own actions."
Their father, Danny Ray Lopez Jr., said he'd hugged his remaining son and thanked him for not adding to the family's grief. "The most important thing in my life was for him to surrender."
"My little brother is not the type of person the police are making him out to be," said the boys' sister, Danaia. "He is a kindhearted person who is caring and gentle...We pray the justice system will afford Dustin his right to a fair trial."
To which Padilla added that Dustin was not a violent youth. "This was basically a motor-vehicle theft case that got escalated to this terrible tragedy."
The press conference ended quietly. The press and the family shuffled off in different directions. That night, the city would turn on the Christmas lights at the City and County Building, an event that would rate front-page coverage the next morning while the Lopez story was buried deep inside the newspapers.
To his family, Danny Ray Lopez III would always be a happy, smiling boy. He was born October 1, 1971, at Denver General Hospital, the first child of Gloria and Danny Ray Lopez Jr., and brought home to the little wooden house on Denver's west side.
Danny was almost too friendly. His mother was always getting after him for talking to strangers in the grocery store or on the sidewalks. But there was no stopping him -- it was just the way he was. He was a big Broncos fan and liked to play football with his friends on the school playground across the street. In the summer, it was baseball sponsored by the Police Athletic League. In those days, the police were still the good guys to Danny.
He was a handsome little boy with steady brown eyes and a habit of sucking on his top lip. He was loud and boisterous. Back then, the neighborhood was still nice. The family didn't have a lot of money, but no one else did, either. The Lopez kids, Danny, Danaia (four years younger), and Dustin (born eight years after Danny), could wander the neighborhood, play all day in the schoolyard and report home only when the last bit of sunlight had left the sky. Gloria didn't have to worry about anything worse than whether they would remember to look both ways before crossing the street. A knot of boys on the corner would have been planning nothing more hazardous than a pickup game of football.
Danny was a natural leader. The other children in the neighborhood looked up to him. He played a mean air guitar in imitation of his favorite rock bands, and the other children would play along. Someone else on bass. Another one or two on drums. Anybody could play in that band.
In particular, Danny was idolized by Dustin, who followed him everywhere almost as soon as he was able to walk.
But the gangs started showing up on the west side when Danny was twelve, maybe thirteen. The knots of boys standing on the corner went from planning games to planning crimes. Passing by or through them was intimidating. There were shootings and police raids on the crack houses that had sprung up in the neighborhood. Graffiti on the walls of local businesses promised violence. Children like the Lopezes were afraid to walk to the local rec center because the gangs congregated nearby.
The timing couldn't have been worse. Danny's father left home about the time the gangs showed up and would be in and out of his son's life after that. Now that his father was gone, his mother told Danny, he would have to be the man of the house. "Set a good example for your brother," she'd say. "He'll be following in your footsteps."
But there were no footsteps for Danny to follow. His mother had to work hard at a lot of menial warehouse jobs to make ends meet. The pressure on a boy to join a gang was tremendous. Danny stayed out of it for a time. When younger friends like Daniel and Antonio Martinez got involved with the Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods in Park Hill, he'd tried to talk them out of it, even roughing them up a little.
But the other boys just laughed at him. They had money. And guns. And power on the streets. To them, it was a matter of survival. Their grandmother's home, at 2727 California Street, was surrounded by a gang of black Crips who gave them a hard time, made it difficult to get to school or anywhere else. The Bloods offered backup and acceptance in return for allegiance and ferocity. The Martinez brothers may have been small in stature, but their reputation as "Bang" and "Boom" (for the sounds made by a gun), as well as the violence of their childhood friend, Francisco "Pancho" Martinez, made them a force to be reckoned with.
Sometime around 1990, Danny Lopez began spending time with the 104th Street set of the CMG. His mother didn't like the idea, but this seemed fairly innocent, mostly just boys hanging out together. And Danny would tell her not to worry about it -- it was just for acceptance -- so she didn't worry, even when he kept getting into trouble with the law. Petty stuff, it seemed to her. Truancy. Shoplifting. Getting into fights with other boys. The crimes landed him in Lookout Mountain Juvenile Detention Center; each time, he would promise that when he got out he would stay out of trouble. Do good. Set an example for his younger brother.
It was on weekend passes from the center that Danny began seeing his future wife, Barbara. She was eighteen months younger than him and had first noticed him when they'd been children growing up in the neighborhood. She knew better than to get involved with someone who couldn't seem to stay on the right side of the law, but it didn't matter: She was in love. It wasn't just his movie-star good looks, the quick, flashing smile and wavy black hair that fell about his shoulders. He was just so real. She could talk to him about anything, and he was never judgmental. If he heard some rumor about her from other boys, he would ask her about it rather than jump to a conclusion. And no matter what she told him, he loved her, too. He would hold her and tell her that no matter what, "everything will be all right."
Barbara didn't like it when Danny started associating with the Bloods. Boys were getting thrown in jail or shot over the color of their clothing. But to him, it was no big deal. Just friends, partying. She saw no future in it, but he'd just laugh, hug her and tell her it would be all right.
Like his mother, Barbara chose to believe him. He didn't act much like a gang member. He didn't talk tough or treat her mean. He was sensitive and not afraid to express himself. He even cried when he needed to. He was always buying roses for her and his mother, even for her mother. He loved red roses. For no reason at all, the women in his life would come home to roses and a card that read "I love you."
One time he called his mother and sister from Lookout Mountain. Excited, he asked them to visit him, saying he had a big surprise. They arrived and were delighted when he met them with a huge decorated cake, which he wanted them to take to Barbara. He had decided that when he got out, he wanted to be a chef.
During his years in and out of Lookout Mountain, Danny got his high school equivalency diploma, and those who loved him hoped it was a step away from his life as a petty criminal. Things looked even brighter when, on March 30, 1991, Barbara gave birth to a baby girl, Mariah.
Danny couldn't have been happier. The proud papa crawled onto the hospital bed with his shy, smiling girlfriend to pose for photographs with his daughter cradled in his arms. A month or so later, he and Barbara would pose again, one on either side of twelve-year-old Dustin holding his cranky niece in sunglasses. But even then, Danny was wearing a jersey with blood-red lettering -- not because he was a sports fan, but because he was a Blood, with "Crenshaw Mafia Gangster" tattooed on the small of his back, a skull on his stomach and "104th" on an ear.
In 1993, Danny was hanging out more and more with the Martinez brothers, Daniel and Antonio, and Francisco Martinez. The three had broken away from the Park Hill Bloods, which was no longer as welcoming of Hispanics, to form their own subset, the Deuce-Seven, named after the address of their grandmother's home. Unlike CMG Bloods or other splinter groups from California, mostly black street gangs named after their original home turf, the Deuce-Seven was Hispanic, indigenous to Denver, its core made up mostly of neighborhood friends and family, including Sammy Quintana Jr., a first cousin of the Martinez brothers, and Alejandro Ornelas, who, like Antonio, had made a reputation as a teenager by shooting a Crip and serving time for it at Lookout Mountain.
Barbara begged Danny not to join the Deuce-Seven. Up to that point, his hanging out with the Bloods seemed to be just that -- hanging out. But the Martinez brothers and Francisco had a rougher reputation that involved guns and violence, a reputation as big-time drug dealers who flashed a lot of money and attitude. She was noticing a change in Danny. Whenever he talked now, it was Blood this, Blood that.
Then came the day when she went to see Danny at his father's house. Danaia met her at the door with a warning: "Danny went and did something you begged him not to do."
"What?" Barbara asked.
"He got beat into the Deuce-Seven."
Danny appeared. He had two black eyes, a split lip, scratches all over his face and body and a large ugly mark across his stomach. He'd been sleeping when the gang jumped him and began pummeling and kicking him. It was a right of passage in gangs, a privilege you earned if you were tough enough to take it.
His family was appalled. Not just by the beating, but by what it signified. You shed your blood to get into the gang, and the only way you walked away from the gang would be by shedding your blood again. One way or the other, it was "blood in and blood out."
But Danny was proud of his new distinction. He was a member of one of the most notorious sets in Denver. Anybody who messed with him would have to deal with the others as well.
Barbara worried. What kind of a life would they have now? What kind of a father could he be to Mariah? He loved his daughter and he loved her, but she didn't want to spend her life visiting him in prison or wondering when -- or if -- he would come home at night. The gang lingo increased, as did the rough side of his demeanor. He seemed angry all the time, short-fused. They began to argue more and more, which led to him hitting her and arrests for domestic violence. One night the police arrived in time to see him kick her and drag her to the ground by her hair.
Barbara didn't understand where the anger was coming from. And he would always be contrite afterward, sending roses, holding her, telling her it would be all right. He would get a job, be a good family man. But he couldn't seem to get away from the gang. And when she pressed, he'd storm off, saying she wasn't his boss and he wasn't coming home until he felt like it. And the cycle would begin again.
He wore red like it was the only hue in the world -- red shirts, red pants, red shoes, a red hat. His mother would ask him to at least tone it down. But he would respond, "Oh, Mom, it's just a color."
One day in 1993 he pulled a gun on a young Inca Boyz gang member. He took the boy's leather coat and threatened him.
Danny's family couldn't believe it. He'd spent a lot of time in juvenile detention growing up, but he wasn't violent. He had always been more likely to give a boy his own coat than to take one. They wondered if it was just some sort of gang initiation, a way of showing who had power in the neighborhood.
But it was also a felony for which he was arrested and prosecuted. And there was another charge for felony theft in Jefferson County, for a bicycle he'd stolen. This time Danny was in real trouble. The mug shot taken at the Jefferson County jail depicted a cold-eyed young man, hardly able to grow a thin moustache -- an image of what was to come.
His mother was devastated. She'd begged him to stay away from gangs. She blamed herself for not keeping a closer watch on his activities and friends. But he'd told her: "I am who I am. I can handle it, Mom. Don't you worry. Don't you never worry."
Now she couldn't help but worry.
Danny spent the next four years in prison. An "ugly" place, he told his family. A place where you went to bed at night to the sound of men screaming. A place rampant with disease and more drugs and violence than he'd ever encountered on the streets.
Danny and his father had never been close. But he wrote his father about life in prison, saying that he could not live "like an animal in a cage." When he got out, he swore, he'd never go back.
For the first two years, Barbara went to visit him regularly and often took Mariah. He wrote to his daughter and somehow always managed to send her a present on her birthday and at Christmas. But Barbara found him to be meaner, colder, with each passing month. He'd accuse her of sleeping around and ask why she didn't send him money, when he knew that she had none to spare.
Finally, she couldn't take it anymore. She stopped going. She wanted a future with a man who would do right by her and her child. A man not committed to gangs, a man with better prospects than prison walls or a hole in the ground. She hoped they would still be friends when he got out -- but that would be up to him.
Others in his family noticed the change in Danny, too. When Danny had gone into prison, he'd been a young gang member who might have made a lot of bad choices about his friends and actions, but none of it seemed too serious. Now he was more a gangster than he had ever been on the streets.
Had to be, he said. You had to be tough to survive in such a place. You had to fight, even if you ended up in the hole, locked down 23 hours out of every day. For protection from the other gangs, he let it be known that he was Deuce-Seven Blood, affiliated with other Bloods. But in 1997, his particular gang affiliation became a liability when seven members of the Deuce-Seven were arrested for the rape and murder of Brandy DuVall.
On the night of May 30, 1997, Brandy was waiting for the bus on South Federal Boulevard when several younger members of the Deuce-Seven got her into their car and took her to a home. Already there were Daniel Martinez, Francisco Martinez, Sammy Quintana and Frank Vigil.
Antonio Martinez, one of the other core members and founders of the Deuce-Seven, had left several hours earlier, upset with his brother and the others for continuing the downward spiral they were on. An aspiring artist, Antonio had given up the gangbanging life and was attending art school. But the others spent their lives getting drunk and committing crimes.
They may have known that the end was near. Lakewood police were looking at Quintana, as well as Alejandro Ornelas and his brother, Gerard, in the shooting death of nineteen-year-old Venus Montoya a year earlier. Francisco Martinez was the suspect in the shooting of another man in May. And Daniel Martinez was on the run from a court-ordered drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.
The insanity of their lives caught up to Brandy DuVall that night. They raped and tortured her for three hours and then, as she pleaded to be let go, took her to the mountains west of Golden and stabbed her 28 times. Still alive, she was thrown down an embankment and left to die. Her body was discovered the next day by a man and his companion who had stopped to admire the scenery and instead saw her half-nude body lying beside a stream ("Dealing with the Devil," February 25-March 18 and May 27-June 3, 1999).
Based on information supplied by the man who leased the home where Brandy was raped (Daniel Martinez's uncle, Jose Martinez), police apprehended the gang members who had been in the house that night. That summer, facing two separate first-degree-murder charges, Sammy Quintana agreed to a deal, pleading guilty to two second-degree-murder charges and agreeing to testify against the others for the DuVall and Montoya murders. It wasn't long before several other members of the gang -- David and Maurice Warren and Jacob Casados -- also took deals in exchange for their testimony. Only Daniel Martinez, Francisco Martinez and Frank Vigil were left to face prosecution.
The Deuce-Seven's leadership and numbers were decimated. Hit just as hard was its reputation. The sick savagery of the sexual assault and murder of Brandy DuVall offended even the sensibilities of other gang members. Rapists are never the most popular of prisoners; most inmates have mothers, sisters, daughters or girlfriends. It wasn't long before reports from the Jefferson County jail and state prison began filtering back to the Metro Area Gang Unit that other gangs were threatening to get the Deuce-Seven. Members of the gang who were already in prison at the time of DuVall's murder were going to have to watch their backs as well.
For Gloria Lopez, it was just one more thing to worry about. Even before Brandy's murder, other gangs like the Inca Boyz were writing graffiti on the walls of businesses in the neighborhood, saying they were going to kill Danny. Even if he survived prison, she feared for his life once he got out. He had a reputation now and would be a prime target for some little banger who wanted to make a name for himself.
Danny told his mother that he was disappointed in his friends for what they'd done to the girl. He was embarrassed. But there was nothing he could do about it. He was Deuce-Seven -- blood in, blood out.
"I can't change who I am," he told his mother, any more than he could erase the tattoos on his body.
When he got out in March 1998, Danny had changed for the worse. His temper was shorter. Once he had carried himself like he owned the world, but now he slouched.
"Pick your head up," his mother would urge. "How come you don't hold your head high?"
"It's what prison did to me, Mom," he'd respond.
Still, at first Danny tried to make it. He got a job working construction on the new Pepsi Center. It was good money, and soon he would qualify for benefits for himself and his family. He was proud of his job and talked about starting his own business someday. He'd given up on the idea of being a chef but had discovered a knack for drawing and hoped he might translate that into a future in art. He and Barbara started talking again, re-establishing the friendship that had brought them together in the first place, and shortly after Mariah's seventh birthday, they decided to try to make another go of it.
But Danny wouldn't let go of his gang ties. Not that there was much of the Deuce-Seven left to run with. In January of that year, nineteen-year-old Andrew Vialpando, a cousin and fellow gang member, had died falling from a cliff in Utah. Vialpando and Joaquin Lopez, another cousin and fellow gang member, had survived being wounded in a drive-by shooting during the May 1997 Cinco de Mayo festivities. Vialpando still had a bullet in his body from the attack when he and Joaquin stole a Jeep in Englewood and drove to Utah with three young women. After a clerk reported them for stealing gasoline in Green River, Utah, the young men and women led sheriff's deputies and state troopers on a high-speed chase. When troopers placed spike pads across the highway to deflate the Jeep's tires, the car's occupants got out and tried to run. Lopez and the three women were quickly apprehended. Vialpando, however, wasn't found until police searchers discovered his body at the bottom of a 300-foot cliff. Joaquin Lopez was returned to Denver, where he was convicted of armed robbery and sent to prison.
Gang member Francisco Guzman had already been convicted of sexual assault on a child and sent to prison. And that spring, Frank Vigil and Alejandro Ornelas were convicted and sent to prison for life; Ornelas's brother, Gerard, had been sentenced to 48 years. In September, Francisco Martinez was also convicted for DuVall's rape and murder and was awaiting his death-penalty trial; Daniel Martinez's murder trial was scheduled for February 1999, and if convicted, he, too, would face a death-penalty hearing.
So Danny "D-Ray" Lopez III found himself in a vacuum. But rather than lie low or even break his gang ties like Antonio Martinez had, he began letting it be known that the Deuce-Seven was "back in the kitchen," with him as the head chef.
It wasn't unexpected. Even as far back as 1997, during the early investigation into the Montoya and DuVall homicides, members of the Metro Area Gang Task Force had warned prosecutors with the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office that Lopez could be trouble when he got out. Some members of the Deuce-Seven were still on the streets, just waiting for someone to come back and take charge. Danny looked like the best candidate: He had served hard time like a man, there was no snitch jacket on him, and he hadn't been tarnished by the DuVall murder.
Other than his criminal record, however, the police had little on Danny Lopez. There were rumors that he had been involved in drive-bys, but nothing that could be proved -- and such information, especially if it was supplied by rival gangs, was always suspect. But he bore watching.
Danny seemed determined to prove them right. He quit his job at the Pepsi Center. All he could find after that was temporary work -- nothing that paid much, certainly no benefits. He and Barbara argued constantly. He didn't hit her anymore, but he also never cried, not even when she knew he was down and frustrated. And when they argued, he would leave to go be with his friends. She might not see him for several days, though he would call Mariah frequently.
And now he took Dustin with him. The younger boy dressed in red like his older brother and got in trouble with the law -- a car theft, a couple of assaults for fighting with other boys. But he wasn't Danny. Dustin was what his family thought of as a "pretty boy." He was only five-foot-four and 130 pounds; he ironed his clothes and made sure every hair was in place before going out. He liked parties, not the rough gang stuff. And he was the one who often talked Danny out of doing "the stupid stuff" that might get him sent back to prison.
Although they constantly dressed in red, the boys hid most of their gang activities from their mother. She'd talk to them about the colors and cry sometimes, but they'd just tell her not to worry. How could she not? She'd be driving them somewhere and pull up at a stoplight next to a car filled with other boys. Her sons and the others would get into staring contests, and she'd wonder if someone in the other car had a gun. She'd ask her boys to stop, but they'd respond, "They're staring at us. What do you expect us to do?"
But just when she'd get so mad at Danny, there he'd be with a bouquet of roses and a card telling her he loved her, begging her forgiveness.
In December 1998, Danny broke the conditions of his parole by skipping a meeting with his parole officer. All of the kids and grandchildren did show up, however, for Christmas at his mother's house. It was the first time in four years that Danny got to spend the day with Mariah. He'd always made sure that she had something special from him, but this was better, because he could hand it to her himself.
He was still on the run when he and Barbara got married on February 23, 1999. Barbara thought Danny was making headway toward a new life. He still insisted on wearing his red clothes but, he said, he was just being himself, not really doing the hardcore gang stuff. He talked about getting a good job, about doing right by her and Mariah and staying off the streets. A week later, he was apprehended and sent back to prison -- where he'd sworn he wouldn't go.
And when he returned to prison, so did the gangster within. Out of self-protection, he said. The Deuce-Seven was a blemish, even for gangs, and it was dangerous to be a member -- even one who was not connected to Brandy DuVall's murder.
Danny swore again that he would never go back to prison once he got out. His family hoped that meant he would choose a different lifestyle. In July he was sent to a community corrections halfway house, where he was able to work during the day and see his daughter and wife outside a jail setting. If he'd stuck with it, he would have finished his sentence in January.
But Danny still wouldn't give up who he was. In July he attended Danaia's wedding dressed from head to toe in bright red. Even his sunglasses were rose-tinted. When his wife and family complained, he shrugged and said he didn't have anything else to wear. Dustin was only a little better, showing up in a Cleveland Indians jersey with bright-red lettering on the logo. His brother had set the example, and he was following it.
Rather than change, Danny seemed to give up. At least once a week, when Barbara was picking him up or driving him back to the halfway house, he would tell her, "I want them to cremate me, Barb. I don't want to be buried." The first time she brushed it off as just talk, but the regularity of the comment began to frighten her.
In August, Danny and Barbara got into a fight. Somehow that led to him quitting his job, which was discovered by the authorities at the halfway house. He tried to smooth things over, but he'd already been reported to the police. He told Barbara that they said he would be in just as much trouble if he turned himself in or if he ran.
Barbara said she didn't think that could be true. She urged him to turn himself in.
"What do you want me to do?" he replied angrily. "Do you want me to go to prison or be here with you?"
"At least we'd have a chance," she said.
But Danny told her he would never go back to prison. And she knew then that there would be no life with the man she loved, no father for her daughter. He left her angrily and went on the run with his brother. Dustin had warrants out for him in Denver, too. They were only for traffic violations, but Dustin wanted to follow in his brother's footsteps.
For the two months that Danny was on the run, Barbara didn't see him. He called often to talk to Mariah, but their own conversations were filled with foreboding. Danny was often drunk when he called, saying he was on "a party mish," or mission. More disturbing was when he changed that to him being on "a death mish" -- not caring if he lived or died or who he took with him.
Danny and Dustin didn't seem particularly concerned about being apprehended when they visited Danaia on the night of October 30. They wanted her to go with them to visit haunted houses. But Danaia didn't approve of the girls her brothers were with and declined the invitation. So they disappeared into the dark, wearing their red like trick-or-treaters.
Around 6:30 Halloween morning, Lakewood police officer Kris DeRoehn was patrolling near Kendall Street and West Florida Avenue when he saw two young Hispanic males crossing a yard on foot. They were wearing red shirts, red pants and red shoes.
A BOLO -- be on the lookout -- had been issued that morning for two Hispanic males wanted in connection with an automobile theft. DeRoehn decided to contact this pair, radioing his intent and position first. He pulled up alongside them and indicated that he wanted them to come over and talk to him. The younger and smaller of the two began to comply, but the older one kept walking.
The police officer got out of his car with his nightstick in hand to pursue the older suspect. He was partway across the street when his quarry turned with a gun in his hand and fired. The bullet struck DeRoehn in the leg, passing through his right calf muscle.
As he stumbled backward, drawing his gun, DeRoehn heard his own patrol car roar past behind him. He fired at the vehicle but the car kept going. Reaching for his portable radio, DeRoehn, married and a police officer for two and a half years, called in the words that strike fear and anger in the hearts of police officers everywhere: "Officer down!"
Help arrived quickly from other officers already en route following DeRoehn's initial call. Soon a West Metro Fire Rescue team arrived and rushed the wounded officer to St. Anthony's Hospital. As doctors attended to DeRoehn, word went out to metro-area agencies informing them that an officer had been shot and giving a description of the suspects. DeRoehn's cruiser was found a half-dozen blocks away. One of his shots had struck a tire, and the thief had fled on foot.
Police discovered the car that had been reported stolen, which led to identification of the suspects: Danny Ray Lopez III, age 28, and his 19-year-old brother, Dustin Delaciano Lopez. They were ID'd as gang members, and the older of the two was thought to be armed with the 9 mm handgun he had used to shoot DeRoehn.
About 3 p.m., Barbara was home looking after eight-year-old Mariah, who was painting, dressed only in her underwear so as not to mess up her clothes. There was a knock on the door, and when Barbara answered, she was ordered to come out with her hands up.
She did as she was told, and was surprised to see as many as twenty police officers with their handguns drawn. They made Mariah go outside in her underwear as they searched the home.
Barbara told them she had not seen Danny in weeks. She asked what he had done and was told only that he had "shot at somebody in Lakewood." But she knew by their numbers and intensity that whatever Danny had done, it was serious.
When they left, Barbara turned on the news. There was a report about a police officer being shot in Lakewood. She hoped Danny wasn't involved, but she knew that he was. She feared she would not see him alive again.
That same afternoon, Danaia's husband was watching TV when a report came on about two Hispanic males being sought in connection with the shooting of a police officer. The description matched Danny and Dustin, but she couldn't believe it was them.
"I know my brothers are crazy," she said. "But they're not that stupid." Shooting a cop was as good as putting a gun to your own head.
A little later, they were sitting on the front porch with Gloria Lopez when they noticed that an undercover police car had cruised by several times. They realized that it was Danny and Dustin the police were looking for.
They had a definite answer ten minutes later, when ten cars roared up and twenty men, some carrying rifles, jumped from the cars. With her children screaming in the street, Danaia, her husband and her mother were all told to lie face-down in the dirt of the front yard.
Panicked, Gloria Lopez complained that she couldn't catch her breath. Danaia begged to be allowed to go to her still-crying children. But they were forced to remain where they were while police searched the house. The police didn't find the boys, but everyone knew it was just a matter of time.
In the days that followed, calls began to pour into the Lakewood Police Department. Some callers offered tips, others prayed for the officer's recovery. Many were from officers in other jurisdictions who wanted to know what they could do to help. Some had been shot themselves, or knew of partners or other officers who had.
DeRoehn was lucky. The bullet had not struck bone or severed a major artery; otherwise, he could have lost his leg -- and thus his career -- or bled to death. It looked as if he would recover physically. But other officers knew that half the battle would be getting past the trauma and fear that came with being shot in the line of duty, and that could be as debilitating for a police officer as any physical wound.
They also believed that Danny Lopez represented a very real danger to the public. It was one thing to trade gunfire with rival gangs, but a willingness to shoot an armed police officer showed a desperation that could get innocent people hurt.
The Jefferson County District Attorney's Office filed charges of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated robbery. Members of Danny's family told the police that he had sworn he would never go back to prison. That information was relayed to metro-area police agencies.
On the morning of November 3, a Lakewood training officer sat with police recruit Keith Marks in a patrol car on Wadsworth Avenue, checking out the photographs of Danny and Dustin Lopez that had appeared in a newspaper. Marks looked up and noticed a young Hispanic male on foot who matched the description of Dustin Lopez.
Marks, who had started training in March and was due to graduate in nine days, left the patrol car and stopped the young man on the sidewalk next to the Wal-Mart parking lot. As Marks began to frisk him, the suspect suddenly bolted, running across the busy street and hopping the median. Marks ran after him. Twice the officer tried to knock the youth to the ground as they headed toward the Discovery Land Child Care center. The second time, about halfway across southbound Wadsworth, Marks tripped and fell to the asphalt. Rising to his feet, he looked up to see a gun pointed at him.
The training officer could not shoot to defend Marks, because Marks was between him and the suspect. At the same time, Discovery Land employee Kelly Lentz was watching the chase while holding one of the eight toddlers in her care. She saw the officer trip and then get up as the young man pointed a gun at him. The pair were about ten to fifteen feet apart when the youth fired twice, striking Marks in the leg before turning and fleeing again. The police recruit gamely tried to follow, pulling his own gun and firing five times before collapsing in the parking lot next to the child-care center.
Marks, who hadn't yet seen one full day on the job, was rushed to St. Anthony's Hospital. Like DeRoehn, he was lucky and was expected to recover fully -- at least from the bullet wound.
More than a hundred officers from several agencies, including a dozen K-9 units, responded to the manhunt. Helicopters buzzed overhead as heavily armed officers in bulletproof vests sealed off an area bordered by Wadsworth, Garrison Street, West Alameda Avenue and West Sixth Avenue.
Lakewood agent Stacey Collis, a school resource officer, and Detective Jeff Rogers spotted the suspect walking around the corner of a building off Wadsworth. When the suspect saw them, he took off running back into the neighborhood, with the officers giving chase. The youth was eventually cornered and gave himself up.
It turned out that this cop-shooter wasn't one of the Lopez brothers, but a sixteen-year-old named Benjamin Sandoval. Sandoval was already wanted in Denver for minor traffic violations. Now he, too, was facing charges of attempted murder, first-degree assault and possessing a handgun. His weapon, also a 9 mm, was located under a pile of leaves in a backyard.
Sandoval indicated that he was with someone. Taking no chances that the second person might be one of the Lopez brothers, the police kept the area sealed off for three hours while they went door-to-door. They found no other suspects.
Before DeRoehn, it had been more than twenty years since a Lakewood police officer had been shot. Now there had been two in just over three days. Everyone who carried a badge was tense.
The Lopez family members resigned themselves to the fact that it was unlikely the boys would come through this unharmed. On the day the police had raided Danaia's house, she and her mother told other family members that they had asked Lakewood detective Gregg Slater if they would be notified when the police caught the brothers. They said he told them they would hear about it "from the coroner."
A friend of the family communicated with the boys and passed the word that they were okay but too frightened to call and possibly expose their whereabouts. The family passed word back, begging them to surrender. The family would find them an attorney, fight the charges. They had to give themselves up. But word came that Danny would not go back to prison.
Gloria Lopez was haunted by nightmares. In them, her sons were running from the police, but no matter how far and fast they ran, they were still caught and killed. It was so real that she would wake up in the night screaming.
Barbara hoped they would come in on their own. But she knew that Danny was gone. Dead or alive, he would never be hers again.
The brothers' father was the only one to talk to them. Privately, though a little late, he wondered if things might have turned out differently if he had spent more time with his sons. Of Deuce-Seven members Danny and Dustin Lopez, Antonio and Daniel Martinez, Francisco Martinez, Alejandro and Gerard Ornelas and Frank Vigil, not one had his father living at home with him. All Danny Ray Lopez Jr. could do now was ask his sons what had happened.
Danny admitted shooting the police officer. But Dustin's version was that Danny had continued walking and looked back to see the police officer approaching Dustin with his nightstick raised as if to hit him. He then shot the officer in the leg so that Dustin could get away.
On November 16, about 2:30 p.m., Arapahoe County sheriff's deputy Tom Albershardt was called by Detective Alex Woods of the Denver Police Department's fugitive unit. Danny and Dustin had been featured in an advertisement in the Rocky Mountain News under the heading "50 Most Wanted Fugitives." And that had led to an informant calling Crimestoppers and reporting that the brothers were holed up at 3081 Eppinger Boulevard in Thornton.
That evening, officers from the Thornton, Lakewood and Northglenn Police Departments and deputies from Arapahoe County arrived in the neighborhood to monitor vehicle and foot traffic to and from the address. When people left the home, they were followed and then pulled over out of sight and sound from the house. The police used "high-risk," or felony, stop procedures: With guns drawn, they ordered occupants of cars to keep their hands in sight and get out of their cars to be checked.
About 9:45, two men and two women left the house and got in a green Honda. One of the females drove while a male sat in the front passenger seat; the other male and female were in the backseat.
The police pulled the car over and demanded that its occupants put up their hands and get out. Three of them began to do as ordered, but the male in the right front passenger seat wouldn't comply. Suddenly the doors on both sides of the car opened, followed by an officer's shout: "He's got a gun!"
The doors closed again as the male forced himself over on top of the driver and took control of the car, which sped away. Several marked police cruisers pursued.
The chase lasted only a couple of minutes before the driver hit a dip and lost control of the car, ending up on the front lawn of a home. The two males escaped from the car -- the driver carrying a handgun -- and ran, leaping over fences. The two female passengers were arrested. One of them told the police that the fleeing men were Danny and Dustin Lopez. Danny, she said, had pointed a gun at her head when he'd commandeered the car.
The police fanned out through the neighborhood. After ten minutes, they spotted a male running down Eppinger Street. Sergeant Jerry Peters, who had responded to the sighting with Officer Greg Reeves, saw another male on the sidewalk and shined his spotlight on him. The man was holding a handgun.
Instead of stopping as commanded, the suspect jumped into an unoccupied Arapahoe County sheriff's vehicle and sped away without turning on the headlights. Peters would later report that he saw the vehicle come within a couple of feet of striking Lieutenant Troy Smith, who was standing in the street. Smith identified the driver as one of the Lopez brothers.
The chase was on again, and again it was short-lived, as the man in the stolen car turned into a cul-de-sac with three police vehicles right behind, their lights and sirens going full blast. The suspect whipped his car around, hitting another parked vehicle, and stopped. The three police vehicles -- Reeves and Peters in one, Smith and Arapahoe deputy Jeff Britegam in the second, Albershardt and Northglenn officer Jeremy Sloan in the third -- also stopped, and the officers got out with their guns drawn.
The officers would later state in their reports that the suspect got out of the car with a gun in his hand. There was a standoff. A moment of indecision passed in a heartbeat. Then the young man jumped back inside the car and, with the tires screeching, aimed for Reeves.
Reeves panicked. "He's got me," he thought.
But his partner, Peters, began shooting. The car swerved, only this time it headed for Smith, who fired into the windshield. It swerved again, heading toward where Sloan and Albershardt were standing. Sloan tried to shoot, but at first he couldn't get the safety on his gun to release.
Albershardt dove for cover as the car came at him. He didn't understand: The driver must have seen that he had a clear path to escape the cul-de-sac but instead had swerved at the officers. Sloan and Albershardt joined in firing at the car.
At last the bullet-riddled car rammed into a parked van and stopped. The officers approached cautiously, but there was no need for their guns. They had fired almost fifty rounds at the car. Inside, Danny Ray Lopez III had been struck by five bullets, including one to his head. On the floor was a loaded 9 mm handgun.
Danny was transported to St. Anthony's Hospital and was on the operating table when his family got the word.
Barbara had been at her cousin's home in Thornton when they'd heard a helicopter pass overhead. "There's the ghetto bird watching to see if I'll lead them to Danny," she'd joked. It wasn't funny, but she was trying desperately to keep up her spirits. They abandoned her completely after she arrived home and got a telephone call from Danaia. Danny's sister was hysterical. "They got him," she cried. "They shot my brother."
Barbara dropped Mariah off at a relative's home, and soon she, Danaia and Gloria Lopez arrived at St. Anthony's. Detective Slater, who'd been talking to the family about getting the boys to give up, approached and said it didn't look good.
"Why did you have to shoot him?" Barbara wailed.
Danny shot first and held a gun to a girl's head, Slater responded, going by early reports that indicated there'd been an exchange of gunfire. But he wasn't entirely inaccurate. Sixteen days earlier, Danny had shot first.
A little while later, a surgeon came down and told them that Danny hadn't made it. The bullet in his brain had killed him.
Gloria Lopez was overcome with grief and anger. Anger at the police, who she believed meant to kill Danny from the beginning. Why couldn't they just have wounded him? she wanted to know. Why did they shoot him so many times?
But she was also angry with Danny. He'd put himself in this position. Always promising to do better. To get a job, settle down, take care of his wife and his little girl. But he wanted to hang out on the streets and get drunk, commit crimes. He shot that police officer, and there'd been hell to pay.
True to his word, Danny wouldn't be going back to prison.
A November blizzard howled outside the doors of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the day of Danny's funeral service. The church was filled to standing room only as latecomers squeezed in to get out of the bitter cold.
As he'd requested of Barbara, Danny had been cremated, his ashes placed in a box that had been set in the coffin near the altar. Here and there among the mourners dressed in somber tones were incongruous splashes of bright red. Red shirts. Red pants. Red shoes. Even one young man in a red three-piece suit.
Bloods. Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods. Latino Gangster Bloods. Park Hill Bloods. Hispanics. Blacks. Maybe even a few white and Asian Bloods. And Danny's old subset of the CMG, the Deuce-Seven.
An unmarked police car cruised the neighborhood outside. The Denver Gang Unit monitored the funeral, noting who was arriving -- the shooters, the drug dealers, the OGs and the wannabes -- and watching for members of rival gangs who might want to disrespect the deceased by disrupting the proceedings. The police presence wasn't a secret, but the gang members in attendance largely ignored the officers in the car.
On any other day, such a gathering would have engendered hard looks, harsh words and itchy trigger fingers. Some sets of Bloods don't get along with each other much better than they do with traditional rivals like the Crips, UTAs or Inca Boyz. But on this day, they put aside their differences to pay respects to one of their own, D-Ray, who'd gone out in a blaze, shot five times in a barrage of police gunfire after having shot one of them first. It was the stuff of legend in the gang world.
Sitting in the front of the church, Danny's family -- his grieving mother and father, his sister, his wife and eight-year-old daughter -- hardly noticed the young men in red. But saying goodbye to her boy, Gloria saw the red bandanna that one of them had placed in the coffin.
It made her angry. They meant to show respect to her son. But these guys, with their Blood this and Blood that, the Crips and Inca Boyz, too -- when would they realize that the people they hurt the most were the ones who loved them? Their mothers. Their fathers. Their sisters and brothers. Their wives, girlfriends and children. All of the people whose lives would be rearranged and destroyed in order to visit prisons and graveyards. What good were those bright-red clothes? What honor to be remembered with an old red bandanna?
It had been blood in and blood out for Danny "D-Ray" Lopez III. And it wasn't over yet, as far as the Bloods were concerned.
The police were still looking for Danny's little brother. "Dusty," as his family called him, had had no real gang reputation before this. But he'd been there when Danny shot the Lakewood cop. And he was the one who took off in the wounded officer's car. And he was there the night the police came gunning for Danny, escaping into the dark while his brother was killed.
There was a chance Dustin might go down the same way. Become a gangland hero. If they caught him, Dustin was facing heavy prosecution. He'd been named as an accomplice in the shooting and had been charged with first-degree attempted murder, among other things. He could be looking at hard time, but he would have a reputation of his own. Bloods behind the walls would look out for him, teach him what he had to know to get by, protect him as well as anyone can be protected in prison. And when he got out, he'd have a name on the streets, just like the brother who'd gone down like a true homeboy.
After Danny's shooting, Gloria wondered if he was already dead or hurt and dying. It wasn't until the next day that she heard from friends of friends that he was okay. For the past two weeks, he'd been on the run, frightened, sometimes living outdoors. Her nightmare continued, only now it was just one son being hunted by the police.
In the days that followed, the family accused the cops of serving as Danny's judge and executioner. Danny's father demanded an independent investigation. His son, he said, had been "massacred," his shooting of DeRoehn an act of "self-defense" to protect his little brother.
The family kept saying Danny had been shot 48 or 50 times. It didn't seem to matter that he'd been hit five times and only one had been fatal. It was the sense that the officers had shot until they were sure he was dead that troubled her.
The day before Christmas, Adams County District Attorney Bob Grant announced that an investigation had concluded that the officers "believed that it was necessary to fire their weapons to defend themselves and others from what they believed to be the imminent use of deadly physical force by Danny Lopez" and that the shooting "was justified."
In Lakewood, Officer DeRoehn was "taking some time to be with his family" before making a decision about coming back to work, according to police spokeswoman Rammona Robinson; she also said that Detective Slater denied commenting that the Lopez family would be notified "by the coroner" when police caught Danny and Dustin. "He's frankly surprised they would say that. He spent a lot of time with them trying to get Danny to give himself up."
The Lopez family did not agree with Grant's assessment, but they don't have the money to hire a private investigator to look into the shooting. Still, for all their hurt and anger, the Lopez family recognizes that this could have just as easily been a tragedy for the family of Kris DeRoehn or one of the other officers who encountered Danny on that mid-November night.
It could just as easily have been DeRoehn's wife left without a husband on Christmas Eve. But it was Barbara who had to deal with telling her daughter that her daddy would not be coming home again. That there would be no presents from him anymore. No hugs, no kisses. No "It'll be all right."
Gloria Lopez spent Christmas hoping that his brother's death had Dustin "scared straight." But she wondered: If he's sent to prison, will he come out worse for it, more of a gangster, like his brother Danny? Would he have a reputation to live up to, a legacy to follow in his brother's footsteps? Would there be another funeral? More red bandannas?
Will enough ever be enough?
Editor's note: At press time, Gloria Lopez told Westword that Dustin had been offered a plea bargain. Nine other charges will be dropped if he pleads guilty to aggravated robbery, for which he could be sentenced to between 10 and 32 years in prison.
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