MORE

Left for Dead

The Shooting

At night, the parking lot outside the King Soopers at Iliff Avenue and Buckley Road in Aurora is a flat field of black asphalt. Thousands of white parking stripes lie useless, while the neon signs above the closed shops next to the food castle cast a fuzzy light.

At about 1:15 on the morning of October 15, 1998, Stephen Dickerson, a 27-year-old tow-truck driver, entered the King Soopers parking lot, sped over the meaningless white strips and stopped just short of the large, bright entrance.

Dickerson hopped out of his truck and, as he entered the store, took notice of two groups of teenagers also nearing the entrance. They were jawing at each other, doing some chest pounding.

Dickerson passed them by, walked inside the cold store and down the aisles. As he turned the corners, collecting his items, he saw the two groups of boys still mugging at one another. When he finished shopping and walked to the cashier, one of the groups waited behind him. As the cashier swept Dickerson's items over the scanner, the tow-truck driver heard the three boys behind him asking each other, "Who are those other kids, anyway? What do they want?" Dickerson continued to listen as two of the boys teased the third for dragging them into King Soopers in the first place: He was there to buy a rose for his girlfriend.

Before Dickerson paid for his groceries, he saw the other two boys -- the aggressors, really -- outside the store talking on a pay phone. He wondered: Were they calling for backup, or were they finished with their trash talking?

Dickerson picked up his bag, left the store and walked to his truck. He got into the driver's seat, slid his grocery bag over to the passenger side and closed the cab door. Looking out his windshield, he saw the two boys from the pay phone getting hostile, challenging the trio to a fight.

Both sides hesitated, but just as the boys finally turned into a ball of fists and kicks outside the supermarket entrance, a yellow Ford LTD sped toward the center of the melee, and five more teenage boys jumped out. Now it was seven on three.

One of the boys, the one getting out of the passenger side, had a gun.

Dickerson watched one of the boys turn and run from the fight. He ran parallel to the closed shops next to King Soopers -- past a liquor store, then a Radio Shack. The boy with the gun, who was maybe six feet tall and 200 pounds, chased the runner and fired. He shot only one time, then returned to the fight, where things were thinning out because a gun had been fired.

Then there was a rapid string of snaps and flares from the gun, and all of the boys scattered back into their cars.

The yellow Ford LTD, now repacked with its five occupants, squealed away, weaving; a white Nissan Sentra, occupied by the two boys who had used the pay phone, took off in the other direction.

Two of the three teenagers who had stood in line behind Dickerson were now on the ground, writhing in pain, bleeding. One had been shot just below his right cheekbone, the other in the right foot. Dickerson left them and followed one of the fleeing cars, but he lost pursuit and returned to the parking lot.

By that time, an officer from the Aurora Police Department was on the scene. The two wounded boys were inside King Soopers now. The boy who was bleeding from his face was asking, "Where's Alan? Where's Alan?" His friend, with a bullet burning in his foot, kept explaining to the cops, "Alan ran that way. Alan ran that way." Dickerson also told the police he had seen someone turn and run.

At 1:50 a.m., the two wounded boys were rolled into ambulances and sent to Columbia Medical Center. Initially, six police cars -- twelve officers in all -- had responded to the call, with more to come throughout the next two hours. Their swirling red lights lit up the black parking lot like a fire in the woods.

The police officers quickly stretched yellow tape around a wide perimeter that included the entrance to King Soopers and the first few rows of parking spaces. They used hand-held floodlights to search for bullet casings the size of eraser heads. They walked shoulder to shoulder in slow lines, sweeping the asphalt for evidence. They questioned employees inside King Soopers. They searched around the back of the grocery store looking for the third boy, the one they were told had run from the scene, but they didn't find him.  

Satisfied, somewhere between 3:45 and 3:50 a.m., the last of the Aurora detectives removed the yellow police tape, got in his squad car and allowed the parking lot to return to its empty stillness.

Alan Conner lay beneath the neon glow of a sign advertising two pizzas for the price of one.

The Beating

Five months before Alan Conner was shot, in a baseball game between rivals Central High School and Hinkley High School, a pitcher from Central's team threw an errant pitch that smacked into the side of a Hinkley batter. Players lining both benches stood up briefly, but peace was restored. Temporarily.

A few days later, on May 13, a player from the Hinkley squad, a senior named Levi Cumins, attended a get-together and was drinking a few beers with friends when an awkward thing occurred: Some students from Central started filtering into the small gathering. A confrontation seemed likely. Cumins sensed the tension in the room, then felt it soar dramatically when he eyed a student from Central named Terry Mosley.

Growing up, Cumins had known Mosley through recreational baseball leagues. Lots of students at both Hinkley and Central knew who Terry Mosley was: He had a reputation for fighting and being the leader in a small group of badass friends. Mosley had originally moved to Aurora from Anaheim, California; now he was living with a woman named Cindy, his girlfriend of two years. From what Cumins could tell, Mosley was intoxicated that night; he was surprised when Mosley put out his hand as Cumins passed by. "He was like, 'It's cool, dude. It's cool. We ain't here to start no shit,'" recalls Cumins. The two athletes shook hands and let the night roll.

The next evening, Cumins and three other friends were hanging out at a park at Montview Boulevard and Cathay Street, playing basketball and talking about what to make of the night. As they played, they noticed an unfamiliar car drive by the park slowly before moving on. Cumins and his friends took note but weren't concerned. Then they started walking to Cumins's car.

While Cumins and his buddies loaded into his purple four-door Escort, the suspicious car returned, and one of its passengers screamed something out the window as it passed by. Pumped for a confrontation, Cumins and his friends followed. The lead car stopped and the driver got out, waving a kitchen knife in each hand. Cumins didn't get out of the car, but his friend, seventeen-year-old Shannon Chaney -- five-foot-ten, 200 pounds, a linebacker on the Hinkley football team -- didn't hesitate.

When the driver raised the knives above his head, Chaney took two quick steps forward and punched him in the face. After he connected, Chaney's forward momentum caused him to fall down on top of the driver. He popped back up while the driver pulled himself up off the pavement with the help of his open car door. The driver's friend got out of the passenger side and rushed Chaney, but Cumins intercepted him with arms to the chest. It was Terry Mosley.

"We know you, we know you," Cumins said. "It's cool, it's cool, cool."

Mosley calmed down and shook Cumins's hand, again, before getting back into the car and speeding away.

"I didn't even know who he was," Chaney says of Mosley. "I just thought he was another high school punk trying to act bad, just like everybody else."

This sequence of events wasn't unusual for Cumins or Chaney; they had been in fights and assorted trouble before. Before Cumins turned eighteen, he had been cited for a curfew violation by Aurora officers who caught him hanging out at a park after 11 p.m. And in 1997 he had been arrested for stealing car stereos. At that time, he says, he was running with bad influences outside his core group of friends, and the phase unfairly branded him as a delinquent. To make matters worse, with his senior year coming to a close, he learned he was five credits shy of graduating -- something that he and some of those core friends would fail to do.

The next night, May 15, Cumins, Chaney and their friends started the evening by partying at 3223 Atchinson Court, a house in a cul-de-sac. About 200 high-schoolers and recent grads drank beer out of plastic cups, stood around, played drinking games and listened to music. Police records would later indicate that even though it was a "Hinkley party," a student from Central named Kyle Baker was allowed to stay since he was the cousin of the host. At about 9 p.m., Baker got into a debate with Cumins, Chaney and other Hinkley students about their fight with Mosley the previous night. The Hinkley students drunkenly bragged that they were ready for "round number two." Baker replied that he could post backup "fifteen deep" with one phone call. At about 10:30 p.m., a group of Central kids responded to Baker's call and showed up outside.  

Word spread quickly, traveling from the front door through the hallways, into the backyard and back around to the front. As Cumins tells it, he, Chaney and about five others walked out to the curb. And when they did, they walked into a trap that closed in behind them.

Some of the attackers came from the sides of the house and right up behind Cumins and his friends. Cumins estimated there were thirty of them. Chaney said 25 -- but just how many there were proved inconsequential.

Scraps started to break out around Cumins. He was still standing near the curb when his peripheral vision picked up a figure coming at his right side. Reflexively, he crouched, then looked up and saw Terry Mosley standing above him, arms cocked, with an aluminum baseball bat in his hands. Mosley swung for Cumins's face.

The impact slammed Cumins's right eyeball deep into the socket. When the skin of his eyeball snapped back out, it left the guts behind.

Cumins stumbled, looked up again at his assailant. "He was either stunned that I wasn't dead or that he did it," Cumins remembers. "I couldn't tell."

Meanwhile, Cumins's friends were losing the brawl. Eighteen-year-old Justin Love took four shots from a CO2 pellet gun to his face and the back of his head and earned ten stitches from a crowbar. Other friends were punched in the ribs with tire irons. Chaney was surrounded by five guys but managed to fight his way out.

Before the Aurora police arrived, Chaney carried Cumins into the backseat of a friend's car -- her mother's car -- and took off for a hospital. Cumins covered his caved-in face with his hands, but he felt the blood pouring out like water.

Officers Thomas Abbott, Stacy Talbert and Bret Jones conducted interviews at the party scene. It was a tough assignment: By the time the attackers had fled, so had some of the most important witnesses. But squad cars had blocked the exit to the cul-de-sac, so officers were able to get at least seven witnesses, most of whom told the same story: Terry Mosley and a lot of his friends got out of their cars, beat the shit out of everyone and drove off.

Cumins's mother, Tonya Coleman, was at home when she got the phone call. Frenzied, she rushed to the hospital. She saw other teenagers; some were there because they'd been assaulted, some because they were giving statements to police. Coleman spent the next two days at the hospital with her son while the police officers conducted their investigation. Doctors spent several hours reconstructing Cumins's face. He'd been wearing a baseball cap backward when he'd been hit, and the fabric had melded into his collapsed brow. The orbital bone had been crushed and split off into hundreds of hairline fractures. Doctors removed pieces of his eyeball that had exploded. When the swelling went down weeks later, eye specialists told Cumins, who had considered going into the Navy, that he'd lost the center vision in his right eye and that the nerve damage was so severe that feeling would never return to that side of his face.

During Cumins's recovery, Tonya Coleman let the police do their job. As a lieutenant in a local law-enforcement agency herself -- she works for the state prison system in Denver -- she respected the integrity of fellow officers and the pressure under which they were working. After two days, though, she did think it was odd that no one from the Aurora Police Department had interviewed the primary victim: Levi Cumins.

Once Cumins left the hospital on May 18, Coleman called the department to follow up on the investigation. Officer Abbott told her he had concluded his twelve interviews and passed the case on to the Juvenile Crimes Unit. He said detective Barry Maul was now handling the case.

Coleman says that when she reached Maul, his tone with her was adversarial. She says he told her that her son and his friends weren't complete victims in this act of violence.

Coleman knew when she was getting the brushoff. The snub only inspired Coleman and her husband, Paul Sandoval, to become more active in their son's case. Paul began spending Monday afternoons waiting in the police-department lobby. He wanted to discuss the case with Maul and look over police reports and statements that are normally available for public review. Coleman also began documenting each of her conversations with the detective, jotting down notes after their phone conversations.  

On May 20, Coleman called Maul from work. She asked why, if a suspect had been named by several witnesses, the department was so slow to make an arrest. In her notes, she wrote that when she pressed Maul for information, he was "condescending and rude," that he told her to "back off," and that he said, "Your son is not the little innocent you think he is. You keep pushing, and I will arrest Levi. I'm sure he did something." Maul went on to assert that Cumins was the "leader of a gang."

Minutes after that conversation, Maul contacted Levi Cumins at home. Cumins says the conversation lasted less than a minute and that Maul ended it by saying, "You're the cause of this, so don't pretend you're not." According to Cumins and his mother, that was the only interaction between Cumins and the investigating officers in his case. (Citing its pretrial status, Maul declined to discuss the case with Westword.)

On May 21, with more than a hundred stitches in his lumpy face, Cumins visited his friend Jessica Webb. She lived just blocks from the rival Central High campus. The two were talking on Jessica's front porch when, at about 3:30 p.m., Cumins and Webb watched Terry Mosley pull into a driveway across the street, three houses down.

Cumins immediately called his mother at work. She told him to call the Aurora police. When a squad car arrived at Webb's house, Cumins told them about the beating. The officers questioned Mosley outside on the lawn while Cumins and Webb watched.

After a few minutes, the officers returned to Webb's front lawn and told Cumins -- while Mosley watched him -- that since no arrest warrant had been issued, there was little they could do.

"It takes a lot of information -- not just one witness saying he saw something -- to piece together evidence to get probable cause, to get the warrant," says Aurora Deputy Police Chief David Linnertz. "Sometimes we know who did it, but that doesn't mean we have enough for probable cause."

But police records show that Mosley had been interviewed twice -- once on the night of the beating and a second time, on May 21, the same day that Cumins and Webb had seen him and called the cops. Mosley's mother was present at the second interview; during that meeting, Detective Maul wrote that Mosley admitted hitting Cumins with the baseball bat but said it was an accident. (And Maul's account of the beating differs from Cumins's: Maul concludes that Cumins and his friends bum-rushed the Central cars as soon as they entered the cul-de-sac, even before their enemies had a chance to get out of their cars.) Maul lists six eyewitnesses who say they watched Mosley hit Cumins; another seven say they saw Mosley carrying the bat.

By the Fourth of July, Tonya Coleman had given up. The department had compiled 26 statements from different witnesses, but still, no one from the department had interviewed Levi Cumins. Coleman stopped calling, stopped pestering Detective Maul. Paul stopped spending his day off waiting in the lobby of the police department for reports that would never come.

"Anyone who would hit someone with an aluminum bat had every intention of killing him," Tonya Coleman says. "But the police were thinking, 'Oh, Levi's just a punk kid, what the hell.' That's how they chopped it up. Because he was involved, because of his past, why waste their time going after the real bad guy? Their attitude was, 'Levi got what he deserved.'"

If the Aurora Police Department didn't want to aggressively investigate the case, Tonya Coleman wondered, who could make them?

The Policing

The people who police the police came to Aurora on January 22. When the three assessors from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc. arrived from Fairfax, Virginia, Lieutenant Kevin Thelen from the Aurora Police Department was at DIA to greet them. Thelen had worked in Internal Affairs until the summer of 1998, when he'd been reassigned to make sure that when the assessors finally came for the on-site evaluation, all the brass was polished. This was a big day -- not just for Thelen, but for the whole department.

When the assessors were shuttled to police headquarters, they were immediately impressed: According to the FBI, the Aurora Police Department is one of the finest of its size. With 260,000 citizens, Aurora is Colorado's third-largest city; its police department employs 512 sworn officers and uses an annual budget of $50 million to protect and serve a jurisdiction of 135 square miles. In "Crime in the United States," the FBI's national crime report released in 1996, Aurora maintained the fourth-lowest crime index compared to 38 cities of similar population. And a week after the assessors' arrival, on January 31, Chief of Police Verne Saint Vincent would proudly report to the city council that crime in Aurora was the lowest it's been since 1980.  

To show that the department was truly on par with the finest in the country, Saint Vincent, under the direction of City Manager Ron Miller, had dedicated the previous year and a half and nearly $150,000 to become nationally accredited.

Like an accredited university, an accredited police department assumes a legitimacy over non-accredited departments. Each year, CALEA assessors charge willing police departments $13,500 to meet the 439 requirements spelled out in a three-ring binder two inches thick. The standards cover everything from how to transport prisoners ("Vehicles used primarily for transporting prisoners must have the driver separated from the prisoner by a safety barrier") to the procedure for establishing roadblocks ("A written directive describes circumstances warranting the use of roadblocks and specifies procedures for implementation").

Some law-enforcement officials believe that unaccredited departments have trouble recruiting officers -- especially top-notch officers. And accredited departments are sometimes privy to federal grants and state funds for special policing efforts. In addition, accredited departments often point to their status to negotiate lower insurance costs. (In one study, researchers concluded that accredited departments claimed losses of $314 per officer, per year, while non-accredited agencies averaged losses of $543 per officer, per year. In other words, officers working in accredited departments cost taxpayers less money because they were less likely to get hurt.) Accreditation has become so desirable that the United States House of Representatives is working on a bill that would allow the U.S. Attorney General's Office to hand out grants to departments hoping to gain accreditation. Lots of departments need that money: Of roughly 17,000 law-enforcement agencies in the country, just 421 are accredited.

But for many departments, including the Denver Police Department, accreditation isn't so desirable. Tony Lombard, a spokesman for the DPD, says the department first considered accreditation in the mid-'80s but backed out once it determined that "the costs would have been enormous to our department."

The Aurora department first became accredited in 1988, but allowed its status to lapse in 1993; at that time, accreditation required meeting more than 1,000 criteria. Thelen says then-police chief Jim Everett cited the irrational costs, paperwork and cumbersome bureaucracy of maintaining the standards CALEA imposed, many of which the chief believed were redundant. In 1994, however, CALEA dropped some of the minutiae, making accreditation worth pursuing.

These days, the "Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies" manual allows police departments a surprising amount of wiggle room. "The standard requirements provide a description of 'what' must be accomplished by the applicant agency but allows that agency wide latitude in determining 'how' it will achieve its compliance" the manual says. "Compliance should never be limited to a single means of achievement. Consequently, compliance is always attainable."

If compliance is "always attainable," how might a department fail the standards?

"Anything could sink their application process," says Emerson C. Davis, the leader of the team of assessors who visited Aurora in January. Davis has inspected twelve departments across the country in the past seven years and found Aurora to be one of the best. "But if they don't adhere to the standards set by the commission, that could sink their application. If they don't do what they say they do -- if they don't practice what they preach -- that could sink the process."

Notably missing from Davis's assessment was a slew of department follies, one of which had filled the newspapers just days before his arrival: On January 19, a federal jury awarded former Aurora policewoman Barbara Wimmer $1 million in a sexual-harassment suit against the department. In her suit, Wimmer said she began dating Officer R.J. Wilson in 1980 and broke it off in 1984, and that Wilson then began following her home from work and harassing her. She claimed he broke into her house on one occasion, choked her on another and, Wimmer testified, raped her on a third. Even though the two officers were assigned the same shifts -- sometimes working in the same office just twenty feet apart, she noted -- the department denied her requests to be transferred to other units, citing strict union rules that limited easy transfers. While testifying, Officer Wilson admitted to physically abusing Wimmer but denied raping her.

In his instructions to the jury, United States District Judge Edward Nottingham asked them to consider whether Wimmer had proved that Wilson and the department's conduct was "so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community?" After deliberating for four hours, the jurors decided she had. The department was to pay half of Wimmer's $1 million award, and the jury took the unusual action of holding Chief Saint Vincent and then-Deputy Chief Michael Stiers each personally accountable for $250,000.  

Also absent from the assessor's report was a 1997 incident involving six officers who, claiming it was an ongoing "practical joke," kicked in more than a hundred hubcaps on police cruisers over the course of several months. In April 1997, the department began an internal investigation after a young officer in District 1 witnessed seventeen-year veteran Gerald Kirby get out of his car and kick two of its hubcaps. Internal Affairs investigators checked Kirby's patrol car before his shift on April 15 and again when he returned; at the end of Kirby's shift, all four hubcaps were dented, and his shoes were immediately confiscated as evidence. The damaged property cost more than $2,000, but more unsettling to the department was the revelation that some of the officers involved were high-ranking veterans. Lieutenant Steve Harlan, with 24 years of experience, was demoted to sergeant but later reinstated. Five other officers were disciplined. Embarrassed, Saint Vincent said at the time, "All of our officers are going to take a hit for the stupidity of a few."

Minority relations were also overlooked in the assessor's inspection. In 1995, two white officers had wrestled with a black suspect outside the Heritage United Church of Christ, sparking a confrontation between churchgoers and several police officers. During a foot chase one month later, an undercover officer had accidentally shot and killed a black teenager named Preston Hill. And that spring, when Saint Vincent took the police chief's job, he'd met with Citizens Concerned About Minorities in Aurora and promised, "I didn't take this job to repeat the mistakes of the past. I want to do something about the way we interact." What he's done is still unclear, considering that most recently, in February 1999, detective Dennis Jarvis was accused of failing to properly investigate a case because it involved Russian immigrants.

Anatoliy Chaplinsky, 26, was held on second-degree assault charges after he was arrested for a fistfight in which a man's nose had been broken. At the trial, Jarvis said he hadn't taken any statements from Chaplinsky or his friends, who were also Russian immigrants and spoke limited English. Asked why he had decided not to use an interpreter, Jarvis said, "I could have, but I knew where this case was going.

"I knew the Russians would get together and concoct a story anyway," he added.

Chaplinsky was acquitted. Incensed by Jarvis's comments, jurors wrote a letter to Adams County District Judge John Vigil, which he read aloud to the courtroom: "This is blatantly racist," the jurors wrote, "and unprofessional behavior on the part of an Aurora police officer."

By the time the assessors arrived, citizens who were upset -- citizens like Tonya Coleman -- were asking how well-documented occurrences like these would factor into the department's quest for accreditation.

Answer: They wouldn't.

The Finding

On October 15, 1998, Sharon Conner received a phone call just before 1:45 a.m. The caller, her son's friend Freddie, asked if Alan had returned home. It wasn't uncommon for Alan to stay out late with friends. Bleary-eyed but willing to oblige her son's friend, Sharon walked to the front room, glanced at the door and saw that Alan's tennis shoes weren't there. (Everyone has to leave their shoes at the door when they enter the Conner house.)

Freddie thanked her and hung up. Sharon went back to bed and thought little of the exchange. Just after 3:30 a.m., the phone rang again. This time, Freddie told Sharon that there had been a shooting -- a shooting? -- outside the King Soopers and that Alan was missing. Freddie told Sharon that Cal and Dom, the two friends Alan had been with, were already at Columbia Medical Hospital.

Sharon didn't bother to grab her coat. She walked down the hallway in her sweats, woke up her daughter, sixteen-year-old Audra, and headed for the hospital. If Alan knows his friends are there, she figured, that's where he'll go.

Sharon knew a shortcut off Iliff Avenue and aimed in that direction, but then, moved by an instinct, turned the steering wheel into the King Soopers parking lot, even though it was black and empty.

As Sharon pulled into the lot, her mind rationalized her instincts: Alan hated guns, wouldn't have anything to do with them. When they'd gone camping in the woods last year and everyone was taking target practice on a tree just for fun, Alan had walked straight back into the cabin. "He's hiding," Sharon said to herself. "If there was a shooting, he ran, and he's hiding."  

Sharon and Audra drove toward the entrance of the grocery store, then followed the pavement east, passing a Radio Shack, a liquor store, Little Caesar's Pizza. Audra screamed.

Alan's body was just beneath the entrance to the pizza shop. He was lying on his right side, his head inches from the curb, his left arm crooked at an angle over his chest. He was wearing baggy jeans and a gray T-shirt with horizontal stripes across the chest. His mouth was open a little bit.

Sharon called out her son's name as she rushed toward his body. She lifted up his shirt, and there it was: a spot of blood on his lower back. It didn't seem real. It was fake.

Sharon and Audra screamed his name some more. They shook his body and yelled his name louder. Still nothing.

Just then, a shopper leaving King Soopers named Sterling Martin saw the headlights of Sharon's car and the two women kneeling, crying for help. Audra came running toward him, screaming. Martin rushed to Alan and applied CPR. Sharon backed off, but not far. As Martin pumped Alan's chest, empty puffs of air exhausted from his body.

"Look, look," Sharon cried. "He's breathing, he's breathing."

No, Martin said, he's not.

The ambulance arrived; the medics jumped out. She had to stand back and watch them hook up his chest to electric prods, watch his limp body flinch. Is he alive, is he alive?

At about 4:10 a.m., a bystander lent her a cell phone, and Sharon, hyperventilating, called her sister Charlotte. Then more cops arrived, then Charlotte got there, then the rest of Sharon's family -- Alan's older brother, Adam, and his father, Frank -- then more detectives, then more investigators, flashing pictures.

This time, detectives roped off the entire parking lot. Investigators unfolded an orange knee-high barrier around Alan's body; he lay just 230 feet from the entrance of King Soopers.

"They put the orange thing around him so no one could see him," Sharon says. "But I stayed. I stayed until they took him away. That was 12:30 p.m."

The cops had begun working on leads immediately after the shooting; thanks to Dickerson, the tow-truck driver, they had located the yellow Ford LTD and were interviewing its owner, nineteen-year-old Paul Galloway.

Galloway denied his involvement. Then, after an hour of interrogation and the threat of facing forty years for accessory to murder, he laid out the events. At about 1:20 a.m., Galloway had been partying at an apartment rented by his friend Chuck Dockery, two blocks from the King Soopers. Terry Mosley and a few others were drinking, smoking pot and playing a street-fighting video game. Two of Galloway's friends, Darren Husted and Sean Zigart, left the party to cash Husted's paycheck at the First Bank inside King Soopers. A few minutes after they left, Husted called the apartment and said three guys at the store were threatening them. There were two guns on the table at the apartment, both .22s. Galloway and Mosley grabbed the guns on the way out the door. While they were in the car, Mosley told them they wouldn't need the guns, so Galloway left his in the car.

According to the police report, Galloway told Detective Joe Petrucelli that when they pulled into the parking lot, he was the last one out of the car.

"Petrucelli: Alright, who brings out the gun? Terry?

Galloway: Yes.

Petrucelli: Alright, and did you see who he shot first?

Galloway: It was that guy who ran by himself.

Petrucelli: So, the, the guy that took off towards...

Galloway: He, he, he was runnin' east, 'cause they were runnin' west, and the one guy that ran east, he was like, he's got a pretty good lead on, on Terry, and then you see a pow.

Petrucelli: Alright, so he was runnin' from Terry and Terry took a shot at him?

Galloway: He wasn't runnin' from Terry directly.

Petrucelli: He was runnin' from everyone?

Galloway: Yeah, he just, I, I think he didn't really wanna fight, you know?"

One by one, Mosley's teenage friends started confessing that he had been the shooter. By 10:35 p.m., the police department issued an arrest warrant and found Mosley at a friend's home. They found the guns in the trunk of the white Nissan Sentra belonging to a boy named Jon Nelson.

The next night, October 16, when Tonya Coleman came home from work, a friend called her and told her to turn on the television. When she did, she felt ill.  

Tonya called her son, Levi Cumins, who had moved to Las Vegas to live with his birth father and to escape Aurora. "He finally did it," she said. "He finally went out and killed somebody." Without hearing his name, Cumins knew who his mother was talking about.

By the time of his arrest for murder, the only thing on Mosley's rap sheet had been an arrest for petty theft in Denver, for which he had paid a fine. He refused to talk to detectives after his arrest and has continued his silence. His attorney, Deputy State Public Defender Rebecca R. Freyre, declined to speak about Mosley or his case until after his trial, saying only, "I think you're going to learn a lot about him and his case."

Ten days after the murder of Alan Conner, on October 26, Tonya Coleman's notes show that she received an unexpected phone call at work. Detective Barry Maul was finally interested in discussing Cumins's claim that he'd been assaulted by Terry Mosley.

The Meetings

The day after they buried Alan, Sharon Conner and her husband, Frank, met with Aurora Deputy Chief Michael Stiers. Conner wanted to know why Alan's friends, Dom and Cal, were telling her that they'd told the arriving officers to look for Alan. She wanted to know why they didn't stay until they found him. She wanted to know why she and Audra had to be the ones to find Alan. If it was your kid who was missing, she asked, would you have gone home?

Stiers told Conner that even if the officers had found Alan right away, there was little chance they could have saved him: The autopsy report shows that Alan's abdominal aorta had been severed by the small bullet, giving him only five, ten, maybe fifteen minutes to live.

To Conner, the explanation sounded like a rationalization, like the cops were trying to avoid any responsibility for their failure to find Alan.

In fact, police logs show that officers responded quickly. So quickly, there's a chance Alan could have been found and treated. The call that shots had been fired came in at 1:34 a.m. The first squad car arrived on the scene at 1:38 a.m. Both ambulances were inside the lot shortly afterward; they picked up Dom and Cal and reported being en route to the hospital by 1:50 a.m., just sixteen minutes after the 911 call. Five, ten, maybe fifteen minutes.

"He showed me pictures from the first time they got there," Sharon Conner says of Stiers. "He told me they roped off the scene, went around the back, then to the front, looking for him. He told me Alan could have run off, came back, then got shot. He told me lots of things."

Conner had come to the meeting for answers, facts -- not a "that's how the system works" attitude.

Stiers has since resigned from the Aurora Police Department and taken a job with the United Nations in Sarajevo and was unavailable for comment. Deputy Chief Linnertz says the department has "all the sympathy in the world" for Sharon and Audra Conner. But he upholds Stiers's interpretation that there was little the department could have done differently. "We had no indication that we were looking for someone that was wounded. We had several reports that several people fled the scene. He was found in the opposite direction of where we were told to look."

The department has not found a reason to investigate or even review its failure to find Alan Conner; instead it maintains that no operating standards were neglected. But on May 8, when Terry Mosley goes on trial for Alan Conner's murder, defense attorneys may use the oversight to argue that the crime scene had been compromised. After all, Alan Conner was found two and a half hours after he'd allegedly been shot by Mosley -- anything could have happened in that time. A good lawyer is likely to point out that the body was alone for at least ten minutes -- the time between when the police finished their first crime-scene investigation and when Sharon Conner arrived to find her son's body. As one defense motion reasons, "the deceased in this case was located several hours after the shooting by two family members and was not discovered by police when they were on the scene conducting the interview."

The Aurora Police Department finally concluded its investigation into the beating of Levi Cumins while Mosley sat in the Arapahoe County Jail on first-degree murder charges. Mosley was charged with first-degree assault on January 22, 1999 -- eight months after the fact.  

Deputy Chief Linnertz says it's difficult to gauge a normal investigation time, but considering the facts of the Cumins assault -- the age of the 26 witnesses, many of whom had "left the state for college," and the number of other cases the detectives were working on -- the investigation did not take an unusually long time. Yet the assault took place in May, while most fleeing seniors don't leave home until August. And at least three of the witnesses who fingered Mosley were hardly college-bound: Two were just fifteen, a third sixteen.

Mosley is scheduled to stand trial March 8 for the assault against Levi Cumins.

It's a day Tonya Coleman has long been waiting for. The moment Levi's mother saw Terry Mosley's face on the television set, she knew she had to contact Sharon Conner. She waited two weeks; then they discussed their cases and met in person. Over the next year, the two women became friends.

Together the two made a plan to address Emerson Davis and the other assessors at a January 24 public hearing required by accreditors.

At the hearing, several uniformed police officers stood in the back rather than sit. A few other citizens were in the room to voice various complaints. The police officers from nearby departments made brief, generic statements supporting the Aurora department's bid for accreditation. One officer represented the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Then an officer from Lakewood spoke, then one from Arvada, then one from El Paso County. The three assessors, with Davis sitting in the middle, nodded and took notes.

Sharon Conner had come with several family members and friends, taking up an entire row of chairs in the mostly empty meeting hall. Tonya Coleman had come with her husband, Paul. She had never made a speech in front of an audience. She used the first row of empty chairs to prop up an oversized photo of Levi's beaten face. She read from a script and rarely looked up, but the words marched right out of her mouth: "I hold the Aurora Police Department responsible for the death of Alan Conner and the injuries to other victims." As Coleman spoke, Sharon Conner moved up from the seat where she had been surrounded by family members and sat next to the podium. When Coleman finished, she said thank you, removed her photo and took her seat.

Sharon Conner spoke next. She told them the whole story -- from the moment she got Freddie's phone call to the moment she found Alan to the meeting with Chief Stiers. Her voice sometimes trembled. "Do I have a grievance with the Aurora Police Department? You bet I do. Do I have anger? You bet I do. My family has had to deal with not only Alan's death, but the thought that if Detective Barry Maul had done what he has been sworn in to do -- 'protect and serve' -- Alan, I believe, would be here today."

There was silence in the room, and the assessors didn't move. "I will never be able to express the pain Audra and I felt at the moment...the vision that we both carry in our memory and will for the rest of our lives."

After Sharon returned to her seat, two more citizens took the stand, but their words quickly vanished. One mother complained that her teenage children had been inappropriately harassed by the police. Another man was wildly upset that he had been arrested for spousal abuse. When the meeting closed, the assessors said goodnight and returned to their hotel. The officer from El Paso County approached Sharon Conner and Tonya Coleman and told them she was sorry for their experiences with the police. "I don't want you to think all officers are like that," she said.

The assessors spent one more day in Aurora before they returned home. They looked into Coleman and Conner's claims before they left town, but Davis says those cases won't have an impact on the department's accreditation efforts.

"The thing to remember," says Davis, who also works as a deputy police chief in Maryland, "is they are going for an original accreditation from this day forward. We wouldn't get involved with things that happened in the past. They are making an assertion that they want to be an accredited, professional department from this day forward. That's not to say they haven't done so in the past! It's saying we're going from right here, now, today, and what is going to be in the future.

"There's no doubt this was a horrific incident," Davis says of Alan Conner's death, noting that he interviewed detectives who worked on the case. "No one disputes that. But when you get into the issue of this could have been done or that could have been done or how aggressive things should have been done, some of those issues are somewhat subjective and what we try to do is take the subjectivity out of it.  

"In either case, we don't believe there was any violation of CALEA standards," Davis says. "Now, if an employee is deficient in the way they do their jobs, that's something for the agency to deal with. CALEA doesn't say how to define someone as deficient."

After Davis completes his on-site report, which he'll pass along with his endorsement, he'll send it to a panel of five commissioners. On March 22, Chief of Police Saint Vincent and Lieutenant Kevin Thelen will travel to Las Vegas for one last appearance before the accreditation board. A panel will volley a few questions at Saint Vincent and Thelen -- maybe ten minutes' worth, since several departments will be there for the same reason -- and then send the issue to all 21 commissioners for a vote. Rarely, if ever, Thelen says, has the entire commission overturned the blessings of the smaller panel.

"We explored every facet of their department," Davis says, "including management, operations, policies and procedures. Everything that we saw under those entities, we were satisfied with the way they run them. They run a very good police department, and you can tell that every part of the department is well-managed."

Sharon Conner disagrees. Every day.

She still has to drive by that King Soopers on Iliff and Buckley. She doesn't do her shopping there anymore, but she still passes the piece of earth that marks her son's death, and she -- not the police officers -- is the one stuck replaying everything in her head. There was nothing they could have done. It pains her to think that Terry Mosley was a suspect in an assault case five months earlier but that the police chased him only after her son was murdered. When the police explained, "Even if Mosley was arrested right away, he would have been back on the streets by October 15," she felt like they hadn't heard her at all. It wasn't that Mosley needed to be in jail that day, but maybe if he'd been arrested for his actions once, maybe served up a dose of humility, then maybe he'd have felt less invincible, maybe learned something.

Sometimes when it's all running around in her mind and she's passing that grocery store, she can lend a generous moment to the Aurora police. Sometimes she tries to imagine the job of the police officers, the darkness of that morning, the size of that parking lot. "I could have seen it if, if" -- and she wants to come up with an excuse, an answer. "No. I can't see it. I can't see it at all. They should have found him."


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >